Tornado tribute: volunteers thanked and rebuilding continues


Reporter - Jason Hibbs
Photojournalist - Randall Barnes

HARRISBURG, Ill.--A neighborhood was nearly destroyed after an EF-4 tornado ripped into parts of Harrisburg, Illinois and claimed eight lives.

It happened on February 29th of last year.  Since that time, thousands of volunteers have helped rebuild.

The Harrisburg Kiwanis Club held a 'tornado tribute'.  It was a chance to thank those who volunteered and coordinated relief efforts.  The club also released a CD and DVD titled 'We Are Here.'  It's a song about the endurance of the people of Harrisburg, and proceeds from its sale go toward scholarships for children affected by the disaster.

But throughout parts of the city there's still much work to be done.

Nearly a year later, you can still see the signs of destruction.  The evidence will eventually fade, but for the people who lived through it, the horror and memories are unforgettable.

Raymond Johnson was upstairs, his wife was below.

"She said 'Raymond you better get out of their now,' bout that time it hit," Johnson said.  "It grabbed me and throwed me back against the wall.”

Tossed by the tornado, Johnson was set on survival.  He made it, but his house was a total loss, like so many neighboring homes.  One year later contractors are just now finishing construction of his new home.

Dan Burnett with Mott Builders said his crew is working as quickly as possible.  

"Long days, extra hours, trying to get what we can get done," Burnett said.

He said there are so many people just like Johnson.

"They lost everything and they're wanting some normalcy back in their life," Burnett said.

But not everyone had the option.  Burnett said some chose not to come back, others couldn't afford to rebuild, and still others never made it out alive.

Turns out, Johnson was one of the lucky ones.

"Life is one of the 'uno' things you got in life. That's number one," Johnson said.

Burnett said Johnson and wife should be able to move into their new house in about a week.