News Local/State

Tornado Destroys Homes In Rural Jackson County

Wreckage of a house moved off of its foundation by a tornado in rural Jackson County.

Wreckage of Brianne Phoenix's house moved off of its foundation by a tornado in rural Jackson County. Benjy Jeffords / WSIU

The last day of February once again brought tornados to Southern Illinois.

In 2012, it was the town of Harrisburg in Saline County that endured a lot of tornado damage.

This time, the heavy damage was a few counties west in the rural areas of northern Jackson County.

“I’m devastated to be honest with you”, said Jeff Wisely. “I don’t know where to begin, or where to start with picking up the pieces of my life, if you will.”

While Wisely was safe at work last night, his home took a direct hit from a tornado.

“I got a call from my neighbor who came to check on my house after the storms went through and called me at work and said that I need to get home”, said Wiseley.

And when he got there, Mother Nature had done some rearranging to the place he’s called home for the last 2 decades.

“It was pretty black out here”, said Wisely. “My family had flashlights and we were able to survey the damage and the debris and everything last night.”

When the sun came up Wednesday morning, the intensity of Tuesday night’s storm was very clear.

Large trees were broken in half. Sheet metal was wrapped around trees like ribbons.

As for Wisely’s house, he explains, “it was a 2 story home. As you can see on the top there, the upper portion of the house is completely gone. Where it is I don’t know at this point.”

Wisely’s house was an older farmhouse that gave him and his father an experience to bond over.

“I enjoy doing that type of thing and restoring old homes and woodworking and that sort of thing”, said Wisely. “And my father does too, so it was kind of a father son project. But we will move forward and try to make the best we can of things. You just don’t expect things like this.”

On Wednesday morning, Jeff Wisely was surrounded by family and friends helping him gather his possessions and clean up the devastation left behind.

“It’s a tremendous boost to my spirits to have my family here to help clean up this mess and be supportive of me and I couldn’t do it without them, that’s for sure”, said Wisely.

Wisely has lived his life in the area and knows severe weather is possible at any time.

Now he has a different outlook on it.

“And maybe this is the take-home message to express”, said Wisely, “that we need to listen to those warnings, as they come across the news, and be prepared and take cover and take it a little more seriously.”

A few miles east of Wisley’s house, Brianne Phoenix and her family’s home were in the same path. But she was ready and listened to severe weather warnings.

“Our plan of action was not to be here with all the storms coming so we decided to go to my sister’s”, said Phoenix, “which turned out to be a good plan.”

Phoenix learned from a relative’s experience to not be naive about storm warnings.

“Actually, my grandparents home got blown away years ago”, said Phoenix. “And you know you never think --- oh, it’s not going to happen, it’s not going to happen. And that was just kind always of an eye opener once that happened, that it can happen. So since then, when they call for tornadoes and it’s a bad storm, I try to have a little bit of a plan. And we are fortunate to have lots of family and friends that we were able to go somewhere else.”

For Phoenix, her husband and two-year-old daughter, going somewhere else probably saved their lives because their house was not where they left it.

“This was the side of the house and that was the side of the house. This was my front porch and it completely turned and got pushed down the hill”, said Phoenix as she pointed out the remains of what used to be her home.

The house was turned 90 degrees by the storm, and moved about 50 feet to the west.

Only two of the four walls are still standing.

“That’s definitely a fifty-fifty chance that we would have made it”, said Phoenix.

Both Phoenix and Wisely are grateful that they have the support of their family to get them through this difficult time.

“We’re fortunate we have a very big family so we might be hopping houses for a while, but we’ll figure it out”, said Phoenix with a rueful chuckle.

For Wisely, the violence of Tuesday night’s storm is countered by the help offered by the community around him.

“It’s really in times like this that you really appreciate those who reach out to you and express how much they care for you”, said Wisely. “And that means a lot, it really does and in times like this when you’re at a loss for what to do.”