Washington, IL tornado victims show resilience as community rebuilds

March 26, 2014 (WASHINGTON, Ill.)

One of the things that have been extraordinarily helpful to the community is the thousands of volunteers who've want to lend a hand.

Don Hodel takes some pictures of what's left of his house across the street. Like many other Washingtonians, Don and his wife are going to rebuild.

''This is home, so we'll stay here,'' Hodel said.

There is an incredible spirit of resilience in this community, and it has been helped by thousands of volunteers who have come to lend a hand.

''The outpouring of support from all over the country - not just this area or central Illinois has been unbelievable,'' said Vicki White.

Much of the volunteer effort has been devoted to debris pick-up. It's a seemingly endless job, and now the thaw has begun to push up chunks of wood and metal that the tornado and winter snow had buried.

''Any which way you can think of for cleaning up debris, we've got jobs,'' said Ben Davidson, associate pastor at Bethany Community Church.

Bethany Community Church is one of the groups coordinating volunteer efforts. So far they've hosted 6,000 people – of all ages from all over with many more coming.

Home rebuilds - which are already underway - are being handled by contractors. But while insurance may cover homes, for many here, it doesn't cover the landscape. No grass, no flowers, no bushes, and most noticeable in tornado alley - no trees.

''Even after everything is rebuilt, it's just going to look desolate,'' said Gary Manier, Washington's mayor.

''At one you'd come out of the basement, you'd come upstairs and you look out the bay window and it's like you're in a forest,'' said Dave White.

A forest no more. But the mayor says various foundations have promised to send trees - thousands of them. And when homeowners are re-situated, they may be eager to see a lot of Johnny Appleseeds.

''We would tell people - come on back to central Illinois. We need your help and we hope to show you some downstate hospitality and love to have people back,'' Davidson said.

Coordinating the volunteer efforts can be overwhelming because so many people want to help. Right now the mission remains to clean up. Last week, when ABC 7 Eyewitness News was in Washington, the mayor got a call from a resident saying that the ground was pushing up a buried ceiling fan on her property, so, there's still work to be done. The tree planting is a ways away.

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