Brookport sees setbacks, progress two years after deadly tornado

From Marian Johnson’s point of view, she’s lucky to be alive.

"This was right there where the lady got killed. This was the people that lived right across the street," she said looking through photos from November 2013.

Many of her Brookport neighbors never returned and don’t plan to.  "This was all full, and now we have nothing," Johnson said pointing to empty lots near her.

For 12 years, Larry Call was a Brookport alderman. He said in the days, weeks and months after the tornado, the city’s finances began to flounder. "Brookport has never been really financially solid, but we’ve always stayed solvent," he told Local 6’s Robert Bradfield.

He says close to 48 homes were destroyed and the effects were felt almost immediately. "That’s four dozen homes not paying utilities, not paying water, sewer, trash," Call said.

The city received almost $2 million from the state after FEMA denied their requests for help twice. That money — carefully earmarked for infrastructure repairs — did not go into the city’s general fund.

"Were still in recovery mode from the tornado situation," Mayor John Klaffer told us in August.  

Earlier this summer, Klaffer told us the city is struggling financially and expects a small cushion at the end of the year. "$12,000 in the general fund to run the city is not enough money," he told Local 6’s Blake Stevens. 

Another storm may be brewing. Rumors of a buyout were made public at a city council meeting in October. Other city leaders have gone on the record saying the federal government approached them about a possible buyout in Brookport. It’s a situation that’s happening in nearby Olive Branch, Illinois, where FEMA is appraising those properties after Flood 2011 at pre-flood value, giving the homeowner’s the option of taking the money and run. Call says that’s not an option in Brookport. 

"I think they overblew the idea. They were doing it for effect. I think they went further than they meant to," Call said. 

Despite the setbacks, there is progress. More than 20 homes are now rebuilt with the latest being a three unit apartment complex made possible by volunteers from Michigan. "I think Brookport does have a future. It’s going to have to do some work," Call said with a smile.

It’s a future Johnson believes should not involve the government or a buyout. "You hate to see it just collapse," she said.

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