News Local/State

After Tornado, Rebuild In Washington Is Steady, But Slow


Families continue to move back into Washington, Illinois a year after an EF4 tornado damaged or destroyed more than 1,100 homes. The majority of destroyed properties are getting rebuilt. And the surge of new construction coupled with returning residents has the city on track to be bigger and potentially better.

More than 600 homes were completely destroyed in the tornado. Washington City Administrator Tim Gleason says experiences in other communities said about half of those families would start rebuilding in the first year. But he says 75-percent of the homes have begun reconstruction. For that reason, Gleason says morale is high in the city, even though staff continue to work round the clock.

“The works been tough", said Gleason. "There’s a lot that we’ve had to do that hopefully we’ll never have to do again. But everybody rose to the challenge. We didn’t have an option to fail.”

Gleason says 160 families have moved back into Washington. But many of the rebuilt homes sit nearby other properties not yet reconstructed.

Washington Planning Director Jon Oliphant says the returning families prompted the city to start citing homeowners for code violations, including tall grass and open foundations.

“We have families with young kids that have kids out at bus stops each day, that are out and about playing or doing work in their yards and, you know, kind of doing their normal activates", said Oliphant. "And we want to make sure it’s a safe area for people to be back in."

Oliphant says the city is trying to balance between securing properties, and giving homeowners enough time to complete repairs.

And one year later, many Washington residents are still waiting to move back. Kim Wright says it took months before she was able to hire a building contractor in the spring:

"IIt just took forever, because of the number I think of houses that have been affected by it", said Wright. "And it just seems to drag all the more now.”

Wright says significant electrical, heating and insulation work remains before she can move back in.

City staff say it’s common that a small number of contractors are trying to juggle a large number of reconstruction projects at once. City Administrator Tim Gleason says that imbalance caused the city to boost the number of building inspectors during rebuilding:

“How experienced is the labor that’s coming in doing the plaster, doing the framing, doing the concrete work", said Gleason. "So the inspection component from the city was very important to us, because I don’t want a family to be sitting in their home two, three years later and in many ways are a victim all over again because of the shoddy craftsmanship.”

Gleason says the city has had up to three dozen building inspectors in the last year from across the state volunteering to inspect and approve contractor work.

Still, the current figures mean work hasn’t started on about 25-percent of the destroyed homes. One reason is the disconnect between some people and their insurance companies on how best to do repairs or rebuild. But Gleason says he thinks the loss will shrink by about 10-percent in the next year, because even lots that went up for sale were quickly purchased off the market.