Relief efforts ramping up for tornado victims | Washington IL tornado survivors to dig through wreckage

That three-and-a-half-hour telethon was broadcast by WTVP, the PBS station in Peoria.
November 21, 2013 7:17:30 AM PST
Homeowners in tornado-ravaged Washington, Illinois, were spending the daylight hours searching the rubble of their homes.

TORNADO RELIEF TELETHON: Watch telethon in its entirety

VIDEO: VIDEO: Washington, Illinois, tornado damage raw footage as seen from Chopper 7 HD
PHOTOS: Washington IL Tornado Damage Photos from Chopper 7HD
PHOTOS: Washington, Illinois tornado damage, suburban Chicago storm damage

Telethon raises money for tornado victims

An estimated 1,000 homes sustained damage in Washington, Illinois, according to the mayor of the devastated community. On Wednesday night, a telethon aired on Peoria television stations to raise money to help the people of Washington.

That three-and-a-half-hour telethon was broadcast by WTVP, the PBS station in Peoria. And between 7 and 8pm, all Peoria TV stations simulcast the program. It was also streamed online to reach as many potential donors as possible. Organizers say that before the telethon ended, it had already raised around $750,000, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the Red Cross.

It was an appeal for help from storm victims and relief workers.

"The money that comes in today, just so that nobody is mistaken here, all goes to the American Red Cross. None of it sticks with any of the television stations, commercial or non-commercial," said Chet Tomczyk, president, WTVP-TV.

With volunteers manning the phones, the governor asked viewers to open their wallets, but declined to predict whether FEMA would open theirs.

ABC7 Eyewitness News reporter Eric Horng: "Do you have any doubt in your mind that DC is going to come through with that disaster funding?" Gov. Quinn: "Well, you never presume anything. The key is to work together as hard."

The telethon was just one place of generosity. At this donation point in Peoria, people were dropping off food and clothes.

To raise awareness and hopefully money, the IHSA is televising statewide the Washington High School football team's playoff game this Saturday.

It's one of many relief efforts here.

At Brewers Distributing Company in Peoria, people have been dropping off food and clothes all day.

"A lot of people now are willing to donate, but a month or two down the line people are going to start forgetting. And hopefully the donations will continue to come in, and people will continue to volunteer," said Linda Johnson, who donated clothes.

Beer company Anheuser-Busch donated water-- 50,000 cans worth.

"There's a boil order right now in Washington, but a lot of people still don't have power. So what they need is bottled water. They need tarps, other necessities," said Katie Waddington, Brewers Distributing Company.

Steve Willey of East Peoria was among those donating. He brought a truckful of clothes, despite losing his own home.

"I figured people need these clothes. And I've got clothes, so I figured we better give them to somebody who can use them," said Willey.

Sports teams pitch in to help tornado victims

The Chicago Cubs are encouraging fans to pitch in and help tornado survivors. So, starting Thursday, donations will be accepted at Wrigley Field.

The wrestling team at Montini Catholic in Lombard knows their competitors at Washington High School. They train and hold camps together, so with news of the tornado, they decided to help out.

"Right when I saw that, I thought right about the guys. I texted them right away. I said are you guys okay? They said, we're fine, but our houses are all gone," said Xavier Montalvo, Montini Catholic wrestler.

So Montini's wrestlers will head to Washington Sunday, using muscle power to clear paths and roadways.

"I just knew we had to do something about it, we had to help them out," said Luke Fortuna, Montini Catholic wrestler.

Their coach explains this transcends sports.

"Your stomach may hurt, your arm may hurt, maybe your girlfriend didn't call you, but nobody woke up with their houses blown away. So no matter what your day is like, there are others suffering worse, keep an open mind, and an open heart and you're going to be fine," said Izzy Martinez, Montini Catholic wrestling coach.

On the pro level, the Bears are auctioning off items from Sunday's Ravens game to raise money, and they're sporting Washington High football shirts.

"We sent our wishes out and, uh, our thoughts and prayers out to the people of Illinois and everyone who has been affected by the storms. Just wanted to wear the shirt, obviously we wanted to support the local football team," said Kyle Long, Chicago Bears.

As for the Cubs, this parking lot at Wrigley Field will be the drop-off point for donations.

"Cubs fans, Sox fans, any kind of fans can drop off items that we will take down to Peoria," said Mike Lufrano, VP of community affairs, Chicago Cubs.

To learn more about how you can help Illinois tornado victims, and see a list of the most-need items, click here.

Tornado victims search for memories in rubble

On Wednesday, there were tears at the home of Andy and Terry Felix. Not because their home is gone, but because a hidden treasure-- an antique hymn book cover-- revealed itself in the rubble.

"It's home. It's a little bit of home. Wherever we're going to land, it's part of the family," said Terry Felix.

"We have had so much support, just more than I can imagine, and so we are really blessed," said Andy Felix.

It was that kind of day: small miracles, small steps.

In the tornado zone, there are no homes left, much less mailboxes, so letters must now be picked up.

"I'm just taking it one step at a time. I've got to get my mail, see what it is. I've ordered new glasses so I can read," said Ruth Hook, tornado victim.

A broken shoulder and other injuries couldn't keep Hook from the post office.

"I'll be alright because this is the first day for a new life. And this is what I feel God wants me to have," said Hook.

Cheryl and Greg Lyons also lost their home, but seeing their address in print is a comfort.

"It's pretty amazing that I'm even here to see it because the house collapsed on me and my son, and it's just very important," said Cheryl Lyons.

"There's bills that still have to be paid, so you still got to get your mail, pay your bills, move on through that," said Greg Lyons.

The Lyons were married years ago, by friend Andy Felix, whose wife found that hymn book cover. This is yet another life event bringing the two couples together.

"It's like we're family. And I feel that throughout the whole community. . .I can't imagine living anywhere else. And honestly this is bringing everybody even closer together," said Andy Felix.

That telethon starts at 7. There will be entertainment and the governor will be there to make an appeal for donations.

Relief efforts under way for tornado victims

A full-scale effort is underway Wednesday night to bring comfort to tornado victims. In Washington, Illinois, a church service was held Wednesday afternoon as relief workers continue to bring in food and supplies.

It's a small church in a small town. But the people here have big hearts, and strong faith that has helped them get through the tornado that has taken so much. This prayer service is intended to help them keep faith even as they face so many hard to answer questions.

"We want people to remember that God has not abandoned us, even though sometimes it feels like, where was God during this, people ask that question in tragedies," said Rebecca Weltmann, pastor.

At the Crossroads Church down the road, most relief agencies have set up camp. The Red Cross is offering food and shelter. Insurance companies are helping customers who have lost everything file claims, and even cell phone companies are trying to get people reconnected. They are addressing immediate issues, but also starting to look ahead at long-term concerns.

"The people are of course going to have to rebuild, and it's long-term for them, but the Red Cross is in long-term with them in terms of helping them as they have needs moving forward," said Dave Stoner, Red Cross.

The response has been so great from people wanting to help, they have stopped accepting anything but monetary donations here. In the meantime, volunteers from near and far are showing up to lend a hand.

"We just want to be here, I like the atmosphere, I like the humbling spirit of other people. And everybody's helping, it's just awesome," said Andre Grider, volunteer.

Federal assessments of the damage will begin Thursday. Five teams will look at the damage to homes and businesses in six Illinois counties.

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