Washington IL tornado relief: Residents visit homes; volunteers allowed to help this weekend

November 22, 2013 (WASHINGTON, Ill.)

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Attempting to outrun a tornado is not recommended, but that's what one survivor tried to do in an effort to get home after seeing the twister that ended up devastating downstate Washington.

The Plunk family decided to make a run home, east to Eureka, from a store in Washington after they heard reports the twister was headed northwest. Leaning out the passenger window, Clint Plunk looked south at terror about to overtake them.

"It turned and we ran parallel, we were lucky," said Clint Plunk.

That distraction won't come soon enough for residents of Georgetown Commons, a doomed complex whose residents were allowed back in to their homes Friday for the first time.

An alarm continues to sound in one of the buildings as it has since Sunday morning when the tornado swept through. A pick-up truck is wrapped around a tree in the middle of the apartment complex.

There is debris everywhere. People's possessions. At the entrance they are lined up waiting with boxes to be escorted in for the first time by a firefighter. They will have a half hour to collect whatever they can find.

"I haven't been able to get in there and get anything and all I'm going to get today is 30 minutes," said resident Sam Wilson.

Wilson has lived at the Georgetown Commons Apartment complex since 1982. He had just left when the tornado swept through Sunday morning, or else he fears he would have been killed.

He's not seen the place since. No one here has. It's been under guard with the unstable buildings they are worried about safety.

"Everything I've accumulated over the years is right in there and what I'm going to get from it is right here," Wilson said.

It's the same for all of the residents. One hundred seventy of the 208 units in the complex were occupied. All survived. And most are hoping there is something left.

"As long as I can get some things that you can't replace, everything else can be replaced," said resident Carissa Johnson.

After residents have collected what they can at the complex and in these other neighborhoods they will demolish the buildings they have determined are unsafe. The residents will have to find new places to live.

Washington, Ill., was the hardest hit during Sunday's deadly tornado outbreak. More than 1,000 homes were damaged, according to the mayor. Many are no longer inhabitable.

Beginning Saturday at 9 a.m., Washington residents and their authorized friends will be allowed in to salvage whatever may remain for them here and in other parts of destroyed Washington.

"I kept fighting for residents to get them back to their homes. Within 48 hours we were able to accomplish that," said Gary Manier, mayor, Washington, Illinois.

Volunteers will need permission from homeowners to help them as they access their properties. Government employees will not be authorized to help as residents pick over their belongings. Soon after the demolitions will begin.

FEMA investigators began assessing damage on Thursday. Gov. Pat Quinn declared 13 counties disaster areas after the storm flattened buildings and downed power lines and trees, scattering debris for miles and leaving hundreds homeless across the state.

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