Gifford: Two Years Later

The new water tower in Gifford, which is expected to operational in a few weeks.

The new water tower in Gifford, which is expected to operational in a few weeks.

Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media

There are no big ceremonies planned Tuesday to mark the two-year mark of the EF-4 tornado that tore through the tiny Champaign County village of Gifford. The storm damaged or destroyed 70 homes in the town of 975 people.  Local farmer and volunteer leader Christina Gann says that's intentional, as the community looks to move forward.

On the day of the 2013 storm, Gann says she was in her home, three miles north of town. Her TV reception and internet service, both received over satellite, had been knocked out, as they have been with many thunderstorms.

Gann's sister, who lives on the south side of Gifford near St. Paul's Lutheran Church, called her that Sunday with panic in her voice. The family quickly took refuge in the basement, and Gann said it took a while for some people to gain an understanding of the devastation.

"For those that lived further south in town, we knew a big storm had come through, (they were told) -  'you need to go for a walk and see what's going on,'" she said.

Gann, whose rural home was not damaged, fell into the title of operations manager for tornado relief through St. Paul's Lutheran Church, helping feed displaced families and volunteers.

"There's a foundation of faith that is in this community," she said. "If your home was a total loss, people would find you at somebody else's home that was not a total loss, but you were helping them board up windows or something.  It was a community that's always been there to help its neighbor anyway."

Tattered and missing trees are the remaining sign of the 2013 tornado, surrounded by a number of re-built homes

(Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media)

Eventually, the church became a large part of the relief effort, with Gann at the helm, putting in 12-16 hour days.

"Between being a farmer, being raised as a Christian, and just with the work ethic that's in my family, were really were raised to say - you do what what needs to be done at this point and time," Gann said. 

Recently, the village burned the last standing home that saw severe damage from the 2013 storm. And a new village water tower was put up about a month ago.

"It's been a long time coming," says Gifford Water/Sewer and Street Superintendent Jess Childress.  "I'll be glad when everything is back to normal."  

The 150,000-gallon tower was paid for through insurance money and a USDA grant. There's still a water main to be completed, but the tower is expected to be back on line by mid-December. 

Christina Gann in the kitchen at St.  Paul's Lutheran Church in Gifford, where she helped serve meals six days a week for months as part of the tornado relief effort.

(Jeff Bossert/Illinois Public Media)

There was a large dinner in 2014 in Gifford to mark one year since the tornado, with about 750 people attending. But Gann said it was decided even in the planning phase, it would be a one-time thing.

"We did not want to always dwell on the destrucution of what happened that day," she said.  "We want to keep moving foward.  We want to be a progressive little town, take what we have learned and continue to move forward."

The dinner was also held three days after Gann's husband, Kevin, died unexpectedly.  She had a chance to address the crowd.

"What they went through with the loss of the tornado, and I went through with the loss of my husband was a very similar road that we've traveled," she said.  "And I have to continue to move foward.  And I can say (one year later) that I am at a point that I have joy in my life, and I am ready to live life."

Story source: WILL