November 25, 2013

Quinn, Congressional Delegation, Request Federal Assistance

Gov. Pat Quinn has asked President Barack Obama to declare 15 counties in Illinois major disaster areas after tornadoes and strong storms hit the state last week.

Quinn also said today that state and federal assessment teams found the storms damaged more than 2,400 homes in Illinois. That includes nearly 800 homes that were destroyed.

Counties in that list of a state declaration include Champaign, Vermilion, and Douglas.
 
State agencies continue to help Illinois communities recover from the Nov. 17 storms. Illinois Department of Transportation equipment and Illinois Department of Corrections inmate crews are working to remove debris.

A note from U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's office indicates the state's congressional delegation also requested the declaration in a letter to the president.

The storm system produced 67 tornadoes throughout the Midwest, 24 of which touched down in Illinois, causing widespread destruction throughout the state," said the delegation.  "The tornadoes resulted in six Illinois fatalities and at least 180 injuries. We respectfully request that you make the necessary declaration so that these counties can receive the assistance they need.”

The state will have resource centers in the hard-hit areas of Washington and Brookport through tomorrow.
 
The governor's office says state and federal emergency officials will meet with local governments early next month to document storm expenses.


November 25, 2013

Forecasters: 24 Tornadoes Hit Illinois November 17

The National Weather Service says two dozen tornadoes struck Illinois and another 28 hit Indiana during a violent weather outbreak earlier this month.

The agency's release of the latest figures only underscores what officials have been saying since the tornadoes roared through the Midwest on Nov. 17: There's never been a November day like that one on record.

The tornado that cut a half-mile swath through the central Illinois community of Washington is the strongest in November in Illinois since modern records began being kept in 1950.

And forecasters say the 28 tornadoes in Indiana were the third-highest total in that state's history and the most ever recorded there in November. There were also tornadoes reported in Michigan, Kentucky and Ohio


November 21, 2013

Vermilion County Added To State Disaster Declarations

Fifteen Illinois counties, including Vermilion, now have state disaster declarations after strong weekend storms unleashed violent tornadoes.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn added Vermilion and Fayette to the list of counties getting the extra state aid.

Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency Director Ted Fisher said the twisters in his area damaged six farms and homes in rural areas, like Catlin and East Lynn.
 
Sunday's storms spawned at least 15 tornadoes that killed at least six people and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses. At least two of the tornadoes had a preliminary designation as EF-4s, the second-strongest rating.
 
Quinn says in a statement that officials are still tallying the damage, but expect to find that more than 1,500 home to have been damaged to destroyed.
 
Federal and state officials are set to meet in central Illinois on Thursday to begin preliminary damage assessments.
 
The disaster designation is aimed at making it easier for state resources to help hard-hit communities.


November 20, 2013

Count Of Homes Damaged In Illinois Expected To Grow

State officials now say that at least 900 homes were either destroyed or badly damaged by Sunday's tornadoes. And that figure is likely to grow.

Patti Thompson is a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.  She says Wednesday the agency doesn't have anything close to a full count of the homes affected in Washington, which was hardest hit by the storms.
 
Washington's mayor said Tuesday that about 1,000 homes received some sort of damage or were destroyed entirely.   The tornado that tore through the central Illinois town had 190 mph winds and was on the ground for 46 miles.
 
Thompson says Federal Emergency Management Agency workers are expected to begin damage assessments for federal help on Thursday.
 
The National Weather Service says at least 15 tornadoes hit Illinois Sunday.
 


Gifford Fire Protection
(Jeff Bossert/WILL)
November 20, 2013

Gifford Cleanup Effort Includes Multiple Agencies, High School Students

While the cleanup effort continues in tornado-ravaged community of Gifford, the Red Cross and United Way have seen more than 200 volunteers assist in that effort.  But Tuesday's work also included about 100 high school students, who were impacted one way or another by the storm.

The cleanup is bringing out more that the volunteer efforts of the Red Cross and United Way.

Most of the student population at nearby Armstrong Township High School was out of the classroom, as part of day of service for about 100 teens, or all but 30 of them. 

The idea started as a project for the schools' FFA Club, but expanded quickly.

The schools’ superintendent and at least one student lost homes in the storm.

Amy Schleef teaches business at Armstrong Township High School, and said everyone in the school knows someone affected.

"We’re focused on cleaning up the field, a lot of kids grown up on farms," she said.  "They know what it’s like to have stuff laying out.  It’s our way of contributing the way we know how.”

"We took two busloads out," said Spanish Teacher Katie Wright.  "So we actually had to go back and reload the bus more than once.  As soon as the kids heard about it, they called home to get more warm clothes so they could go out for the whole day."

Schleef says another community service day is planned for Wednesday, with even more students and staff. 

Work crews continue to clean up the more than 50 homes that were damaged or destroyed in Sunday’s storm.  Gordyville Auction House, just outside town, is used to register volunteers – and collect items like non-perishable food, water, and cleaning supplies.

Dean Otta is a Red Cross volunteer and disaster team captain based in Decatur.  He says volunteers are seeking the full range of jobs.

“They’re asking for people that can do heavy lifting, picking up shingles, and light debris," he said.  "There’s families that want help.  They’ll ask for 3 or 4, volunteers – we’ll sign 3 or 4 people, go the specific house – the families that they want.”

The Country Health Care and Rehab Nursing Home is one of the few locations in Gifford with electricity. 

Because the facility was spared from the storm Sunday, and never lost power, Administrator Chris Kasper said it’s functioned as a shelter, and another place for the Red Cross to store supplies.

"This facility was built by the community that has always supported us, now it's our turn to support them," he said.  "Thankfully we've been able to do that.  We want to provide them with plenty of bottled water and toiletries, and anything they need to just have some sense of normalcy."

The nursing home now even has functioning internet service, letting staff take care of medical records.

Meanwhile. federal assessments of tornado-damaged property in Illinois are to begin Thursday.
 
Gov. Pat Quinn's office says Federal Emergency Management Agency assessments are necessary so the state can request federal assistance.
 
Five teams will look at damage to homes and businesses in Champaign, Grundy, Massac, Pope, Tazewell and Will counties.

Sunday's tornadoes destroyed hundreds of homes and left six people dead in the state.


November 19, 2013

Six More Counties, Including Douglas, Given Disaster Declaration

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn is adding another six counties to the state's disaster declaration after strong weekend storms blew across the region.

The move was announced early Tuesday and brings the total number of counties given the designation to 13.

The newest counties being added are Douglas, Jasper, Pope, Wabash, Wayne and Will.

The governor declared Champaign, Grundy, LaSalle, Massac, Tazewell, Washington and Woodford counties as state disaster areas on Monday.

Quinn's tour of the region Monday included a visit to the Champaign County community Gifford, where residents sustained only minor injuries. 

"We want people to rebuild and to come together, and Gifford is a strong town," he said.  "And it has strong community feeling, and we want the town to come back stronger than ever."

Carl Baker with the American Red Cross said the agency is trying to address some very specific needs in Gifford.

"We have been on the ground doing mobile feeding, fixed feeding, and also had a shelter open," he said. "So, that's what we're doing here.  We've also done some client needs to see what they needed, and also some mental health counseling."

Sunday's storms spawned tornadoes that pummeled the state, killing at least six people and destroying hundreds of homes and businesses. At least two of the tornadoes had a preliminary designation as EF-4s, the second-strongest rating.
 
The disaster designation is aimed at making it easier for state resources to help hard-hit communities.


November 18, 2013

Red Cross, United Way Reaching Out To Storm-Ravaged Gifford

The American Red Cross and United Way of Champaign County have coordinated disaster recovery efforts in Gifford in the wake of the storm.

United Way President Sue Grey says basic needs, food, water, and cash donations, are the most urgent needs right now. 

Her agency is also working with local food vendors to help out the more than 400 people needing meals Monday night.

Grey said supplies will be delivered to the Gordyville Auction House on Route 136 outside the village.

“They’re processing volunteers at Gordyville," she said.  "And it’s a kind of a staging area for them to keep people – you know, you can get close to Gifford, but they don’t need a lot of additional bodies in Gifford.  That’s kind of where they’re at.”

The United Way is coordinating a bottled water drive than runs from 2 to 6 p.m. Monday at WDWS Radio at 2301 S. Neil Street in Champaign.  Water, as well as cash donations, are also being accepted all week at the United Way of Champaign County Office on West Church Street from 8:30 to 5 p.m.

On Wednesday, the United Way will accept cash and check donations at WCIA Channel 3 at 509 S. Neil St in Champaign, from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

Potential volunteers can call United Way at 352-5151, and the agency will keep a liist for the American Red Cross.  In a press release, the United Way noted that because of the nature of the situation, not all volunteers may be called immediately to assist.

Volunteer efforts include staff with Champaign's Public Works Department.  Eight staff members have been deployed, and will be under the direction of on-site command staff from the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency.


Damage from a tornado that struck Gifford, Ill. on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.
(Sean Powers/WILL)
November 18, 2013

Tornado Batters Gifford, Minor Injuries

There were dozens of reported tornados on Sunday across the state, including two in Champaign County that hit at almost the same time. Illinois Public Media’s Sean Powers arrived in Gifford just as the skies were clearing, and the cleanup was beginning. Listen to the audio by clicking the button on the left. A small album of photos can be found here

According to the county’s Emergency Management Facebook page, Spokesman Rick Atterberry said about 200 homes were damaged in Gifford, from minor damage to total destruction.

He said six people were transported from Gifford to area hospitals, and a boil order is in effect in the community until further notice.

In the aftermath of the storm, Rhoda Foster with the Urbana Fire Department spray painted shapes on damaged buildings to indicate the level of risk.

The fire department is one of many from East Central Illinois at the scene Sunday afternoon.

“Stability of roofs, of sidewalls to see if we have any shifting, any structural damage that’s what tells us whether it’s ok to go in or not,” Foster said.

Emergency management officials say 20 homes were completely destroyed, and dozens badly damaged.  This covered at least 10 square blocks, primarily on the north side of town.

A piece of metal dangles from a tree in front of Dave and Rhonda Bletcher’s home.

“Watch for glass and nails,” she said. 

“The house is standing, but it’s off the foundation,” said Dave.  “So, it’s totaled.”

Dave is a firefighter in Gifford and also the town’s emergency operations director. 

He was at the fire station when the storm hit.  There were a few minor injuries, but no deaths.  Bletcher says people in Gifford had plenty of warning that the storm was approaching.

“We were contacted by county units, and what have you, that there was something coming and we had people actually doing visual,” he said.  “And we saw visual of the tornado, and set the sirens off ahead of time.”

When the tornado hit, Rhonda Bletcher was at home with her two sons and two grandsons.

“When the sirens went off, we went to the basement and the air pressure changed, and our ears started popping, and the windows popped out,” she said.  “Things started flying, and we thought the house was going to come down to us.  It moved and things started falling from upstairs, and we just kept praying, and praying and everybody’s ok and that’s all that matters.”

The Bletchers went to stay at Rhonda’s dad’s house, who also lives in Gifford.  That will be their home for the time being. 

But other families don’t know where they’re going to go.  Judith Singh moved to Gifford two months ago.  She was at home with her six children when she came eye-to-eye with the storm.

“The tornado came through our house, literally,” she said.  “We live on West Plummet Street.  It took it completely out.  It was just black, dark.  It sounded like a train.  I heard that before I saw it all.”

But Judith escaped with only scrapes and cuts on her back.  Her children weren’t injured.  Her daughter Autumn said this could have been much worse.

“The only thing that was going through mind was my mother and my brother’s sister,” she said.  “I didn’t care about the TV’s.  I didn’t care about the house.  My mind was on them.”

Judith and Autumn sat outside St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, staring at a few boxes of clothing, what they could salvage from their home.  Sobbing, Judith said the tornado took almost everything away.

“Where do I go from here?” she said.  “What do I do from here?  We lost everything.  Once you know everyone is safe, you start to wonder what the hell, what do you do now – I’m trying really hard not to be angry.   I know it sounds wrong.  We lost everything.  I’m grateful to God my kids are okay, but I’m stuck.”

Residents of Gifford say they’re going to do what they can to help those in need.  Steven Lambaro is the pastor St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, which has opened up as a shelter.

“We’re hooking up as a generator,” he said.  “It’s still in the early stages.  We have some water that’s come in and some other things, too.  So, we’re trying to provide a place right now for people who need to be out of the elements and have no place to go.”

It’s source of comfort for a community shattered, but determined to get back on its feet.  

Damage from a tornado that struck Gifford, Ill. on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2013.

Listen

November 12, 2013

Rantoul School Bus Collision Among Snow-Related Accidents

Authorities say one person died and three children on a school bus were injured on snow-slickened roads in central Illinois.

The (Bloomington) Pantagraph says the driver of an SUV was killed Monday night after it spun out of control on an Interstate 39 overpass by El Paso. The SUV slid into the path of a semitrailer.
 
And according to The News-Gazette, three students on a Rantoul Township High School bus were treated for injuries Tuesday after a car ran into their bus on a slick road near Dillsburg in Champaign County.

UPDATE:  In a press release, the school said later Tuesday morning that no students were hurt, and cleared by medical personnel.

Illinois State Police say a Laporte, Indiana man - Terrance Pearson - suffered a fractured spine and pelvic bone and is at Carle Foundation Hospital after a collision on Interstate 57 Monday night.   Troopers say the driver of a truck he was in failed to slow down in time, and skidded into a Pesotum fire truck responding to an unrelated accident.

In northern Illinois, injuries were reported in several collisions blamed on snow and black ice.

WMAQ-TV reports 13 cars were involved in a pileup on an icy Joliet bridge Monday evening. Two people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.


September 19, 2013

Texas Company Helps Bement Students, Teachers

The elementary school in Bement was among the schools in the region that had to send students home early during a recent heat wave.

But students at Bement Elementary came to class this week to find a surprise - the hum of air conditioners in their classrooms.

Wink Chapman is a vice president at Friedrich Air Conditioning Company in San Antonio, Texas. After someone at his business saw an Associated Press story about schools lacking air conditioning, the company donated eight window units to Bement.

School Superintendent Sheila Greenwood says the air conditioners are a blessing for the school and financially struggling district. The situation is bad enough that it is considering closing the local high school.

Fourth-grade teacher Shelly Ellis says her students were thrilled by the news.


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