2 years since deadly tornado in Harrisburg, Ill.

March 01, 2014 (HARRISBURG, Ill.)

In 2012, the small town in Southern Illinois was just coming to grips with the death and destruction caused by a massive tornado. It hit on leap day- February 29, 2012.

Eyewitness News reporter Ben Bradley was in Harrisburg hours after the tornado hit. Two years after the damage, he shares an update on how the community is recovering without federal help.

Eight people were killed and more than 500 homes and businesses were destroyed.

Harrisburg native Keith Huke described the scene in his bedroom on that fateful day.

"The bed didn't move. The covers weren't pulled off. It was like it didn't happen. Then I opened my eyes and everything I saw, there was just a total path of destruction where a wall and my garage should have been," Huke had said at the time.

Two years later, the debris is gone but scars remain. Harrisburg's mayor says more than half of the damaged homes have been repaired or rebuilt. A new law gave residents a tax advantage to do so.

The local economy also improved in the area, with more businesses than before the tornado. Still, memories of the tornado are vivid.

"The construction, all the new businesses coming to town, it's not worth the eight lives lost and the mourning that continues two years later for families that lost loved ones," said Dale Fowler, Harrisburg City Council member.

Early hopes of FEMA aide were dashed after monetary help was denied. Illinois agencies were forced to come up with nearly $9-million in aid after the federal government turned down the state's call for disaster relief.

The town's condition is remarkable considering that it has been rebuilt without federal help.

Now Senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk are pushing to change the funding formula. Hard-hit cities like Harrisburg and Washington, Illinois are at disadvantage because FEMA's policies are based on impact to a state's entire population.

"If you're a state that has a huge city in it like we do in Chicago, you're always going to be left out by the old formula," said Kirk.

Meanwhile, Harrisburg helped itself. Soon, the town plans to open a community center after the old one was destroyed.

"We thought it's very beautiful. It has been a long, hard road to get here," said Sandra Smith, Harrisburg resident.

Although there has been progress, the road to recovery in Harrisburg continues.

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.