Washington, Illinois rebuilds after devastating tornado

Eyewitness News returned to Washington, Illinois to check in with tornado survivors who've begun rebuilding.
March 25, 2014 8:30:50 PM PDT
The monstrous tornado that devastated downstate Washington in November is fading from memory for many of us, but not, of course, for those who experienced it.

Two days after the tornado, Dave White returned to the corner lot where his home once stood. Dave, his son Paul, and wife Vicki were in their basement when the tornado came like a giant claw hammer and pulled their home off its foundation.

"Pretty, pretty amazing that our neighbors all around us walked out. We walked out," said Vicki White.

Four months have passed. Fifty-four inches of snow has come and gone. Much of the debris is gone, too, but much remains. The corner lot where the Whites' home of 35 years stood is, for now, a hole in the ground. The emotion is still raw.

"You see it on the news. You see what happens to other people. When it happens to you, well I think, it's pretty hard to take," said Dave White.

"It's not just a house. It's not just materialistic things. It's just that your whole life seems in 35 seconds to have disappeared, and you don't even know where it is," said Vicki White.

This hole is not just about what was, but also what will be. The Whites are rebuilding. They were picking out doors for their new home the day we visited. And nearly all their neighbors at Elgin and Grandyle are coming back, too.

After a natural disaster like this, typically some people move away and they don't come back. In Washington's case, that may be minimal.

Already, houses are going back up in a town that had over 1,100 homes damaged or destroyed by the tornado. There are nearly 130 commitments for total rebuilds. And the arrival of spring will expand that number, with new permits every day. The Mayor is hopeful that his town of 15,000 will lose no more than 1% of its population. Community gatherings make it seem so.

"We've packed gyms and churches. People want to be together. And I notice at those meetings people are sitting by subdivision and streets. It brings tears to your eyes that they really want to be together," said Gary Manier, Washington mayor.

Still, there are significant challenges ahead. The scars are deep. Washington lost nearly half its tax base, but it has still managed to balance its budget. And there is a resilient spirit here, Washington Strong, that cannot be quantified.

"And as long as we stand strong together, we'll be here forever. This is our community. Period," said Paul White.

"This is home, 35 years, and the community is probably the best community in the world," said Dave White.

As we speak, the machinery arrives to work on the corner lot. By the end of July, the Whites hope to walk through the front door to their new home.

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