1-month anniversary of Midwest tornadoes outbreak
December 17, 2013 (WASHINGTON, Ill.) (WLS) -- One month ago, 16 tornadoes struck in Illinois and northwest Indiana.
One of the hardest hit towns was Washington, Ill., where two EF4 tornadoes leveled homes and businesses. Thousands of buildings were destroyed. Another twister in the tornado outbreak struck Coal City and neighboring Diamond in Grundy County.
The governor declared 13 Illinois counties disaster zones.
Teachers from west suburban Naperville delivered holiday donations to elementary school students in Washington, Illinois. Students and community members in Naperville pitched in to help.
"It's one month from the devastation, but it's been one month from recovery also," said Washington Mayor Gary Manier.
Thirty days later, much of the small community of 15,000 has been transformed into a construction zone. Many homes, too damaged to repair, have been leveled. Mark Peiffer is staying with his in-laws. His hope is that his house will be livable sometime next month.
"You drive down and see where neighborhoods used to be, and you get really sad for the community and everything," said Peiffer.
A stone's throw from the devastation is Washington's central primary school. On Tuesday, a group of teachers from Naperville donned their Santa hats to bring gifts, many hand-made by their own students to each of the 575 kids there.
"We are able to provide blankets to first and second graders, scarves to third graders, stuffed animals to kindergarten, and every child received three books along with a homemade card from one of the kids," said Sophia Djengi, Beebe Elementary School, Naperville.
More than 100 of the children lost their homes in the tornado. The holiday season, says their principal has offered a welcome distraction.
"I think it will be a challenge after the holidays, when we don't have them to look forward to. We are located right up against a lot of the damage," said Principal Brett Lawless, Central Primary School.
Folks there say the outpouring of generosity has been staggering. On Monday, the now full-time mayor was at city hall opening the mail when out came a check.
"It was a check, no note attached to it, it was in a small paper towel, it was $100,000 dollars for the city of Washington tornado relief fund. It's very emotional when you get those types of gifts," said Manier.
At St. Patrick's Catholic Church, $4,000 in gift cards came in Tuesday.
"That's what Christmas is... we are a people of hope and we will rise from this and we'll do it together... have that strong faith and family," said Fr. Stephen Willard, St. Patrick's Catholic Church.
The biggest hurdle is waiting for federal aid. The paperwork will be filed this Friday in the hopes funds can be released soon thereafter.
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