Harrisburg residents reflect in wake of Oklahoma tornado


Reporter - Kathryn DiGisi

HARRISBURG, Ill. - The devastation in Oklahoma is a harsh reminder to people in southern Illinois who lived through and helped respond to the tornado that hit Harrisburg one year ago.

Emergency Management had their hands full during the storm's aftermath, so local churches rose to the occasion by offering food, water and shelter.

Emergency Management official Allan Ninness works in an office filled with reminders of last year's devastating storm.

He remembers the loss, but he also remembers the compassion.

"Strangers helping strangers. We had the entire mid west coming to our aid and to our help. It was quite something," said Ninness.

First responders in Harrisburg acted selflessly, and Ninness knows the story is the same in Moore, Oklahoma.

"It's coming by instinct. It's coming from training. It's coming from experience," said Ninness.

Local churches stepped in to fill a need, while first responders worked to save lives.

Pastor Chris Winkleman says his church family was his first priority.

He lost one of his members that day.

"We were trying to get a hold of her mom and dad and connect with them, but there was so much chaos going on, and then when we finally did get with them, it was surreal and difficult...and yeah, I won't forget that," said Winkleman.

But with tragedy, came a new avenue of ministry for his church.

After the 2012 tornado, the Red Cross set up shop in the basement of the First Baptist Church of Harrisburg, and since that day, thier doors have been open for when disaster strikes, even if it is states away.

Winkleman says he knows the pain the community of Moore is suffering.

"Our hearts go out to them. We remember vividly and still feel the pain that we have experienced and the loss that we went through," said Winkleman.

Both Ninness and Winkleman want the people of Moore, Oklahoma to know they are not alone.

The road to recovery is a long one, but they have an entire nation supporting them.

Winkleman says he has a group of men in his church who are trained for emergency situations and are on-call, waiting to be summoned to Moore, Oklahoma by the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief organization.