Survivors survey tornado damage

Residents seek solace through community kinship

Patricia Roberts and her friend Connie Morse sat in lawn chairs in front of Roberts’ destroyed duplex Thursday, waiting for insurance adjusters.

Five of the six deaths that resulted from the storms in Harrisburg Wednesday were in identical duplexes to Roberts’ Brady Street home.

For Roberts, the roof of her house smashed her car, her bedroom ceiling was sunken in to the floor and the walls of her living room were missing.

The two women reflected the emotions of the community, which was hit by the EF4 tornado at 4:56 a.m. Wednesday with wind speeds up to 170 mph, the second-most
powerful on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

Brenda Hill, of Harrisburg, delivers mail Thursday to the portion of her route mostly left unaffected by Wednesday’s tornado. Isaac Smith | Daily Egyptian

“I cry a lot,” Roberts said in reference to how she is dealing with the devastated area.

While the state has sent help and a communication trailer to allow interaction between emergency responders, many in the community spent Thursday like those on Brady Street — trying to find lost belongings, pets, family photos and beginning to think about how they could return to normal life.

Just blocks away from where the tornado caused the most damage, Brenda Hill, a mail carrier, delivered letters and packages to homes with minimal damage.

Hill, a Harrisburg resident, said she hoped getting people their mail gave them a sense of normalcy.

“I’m getting out and walking and I’m not supposed to,” she said. “But I will do it for my customers.”

Hill, who was not allowed to deliver to areas blocked off by police, said she normally would deliver mail to some of those killed in the storm. She said she grew up with one of the men who died, and knew the victims on Brady Street whose houses were leveled.

“It’s bad. I’ve cried,” she said.

Amidst the wreckage, Ameren Corporation workers toiled all day Thursday, to try and restore power by using chainsaws to move trees that had fallen on power lines.

As of 3 p.m. 660 customers in Harrisburg were still without power and Ameren had sent 430 personnel to the area, said Leigh Morris, Ameren spokesman. He said 334 customers in Ridgeway and 534 in Mounds were without power.

Morris said power should be restored to most customers by late this evening.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with everybody in Harrisburg,” he said. “This is something that takes on a level of meaning far beyond a storm.”

While Dale Barnfield’s house was destroyed, he focused on one thing Thursday — finding his beagle, Baby.

After he spent the night in his niece’s home, Barnfield woke up before dawn to look for the dog.

Much of Barnfield’s house still stood, but he said it will have to be demolished. From the sidewalk the interior of the living room was visible, furniture untouched, with only an overturned television — and the lack of an exterior wall — showing that it had been hit by the storm. A window next to the bed, where he slept when the storm hit, was gone, leaving shattered glass on the floor. Miller said when her uncle put his shoes on, there were glass shards inside.

His house was built before 1917, when his family moved in. Barnfield, 82, has lived there his entire life.

His niece, Carolyn Miller, called the Saline County Animal Control and other animal shelters to try to find the dog for most of the day.

“He cares more about the dog than he does the house,” she said. “He won’t rest until he finds her.”

Barnfield, who never married and has no children, said he will stay at Miller’s house until he can rebuild on his property.

“In a strange bed, you don’t sleep too good,” he said. “I got about an hour of sleep. I was thinking about what I need to do today.”

At around 3 p.m. the family still looked for the dog, after they spotted it twice in the neighborhood. Miller said the dog is scared and probably won’t come to anyone but Barnfield.

“She’s trying to come home,” Miller said.

The Rev. Robert Gray, SIU police chaplain, said when people go through a massive loss they tend to hold on to things they can control.

“People hold on to things. If they can find a picture, if they can find an animal, family, friends, anything — and that’s why you’ll hear people talk about being so thankful to God that they’re alright, because for a lot of people, God is something they can hold on,” he said.

Gray said those affected by the storm may also depend on those who have come to help.

“I think people are amazed that so many people care about them, so many strangers,” he said. “Whether it’s Joplin or Harrisburg, people aren’t so much looking for government to fix it, as they are amazed that strangers are coming in to cut up trees and limbs.”

Chris McCloud, spokesman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said in terms of financial help from the state, it will likely be in the coming weeks and months when storm analysis is completed. McCloud said IEMA has been in constant contact with emergency responders and local police and the agency will continue to  assist them.

Many in the community who were not directly affected tried to help with the recovery.

Jillian Lambert, a junior from Harrisburg studying special and elementary education, said she was shocked by how many people came out to help the community.

Lambert woke early Thursday to clean up her home, which had busted windows and a torn-down garage.

After she spent the morning in a town declared a disaster area by Gov. Pat Quinn Friday, Lambert travelled back to to take a midterm.

She said Carbondale felt like another world compared to the devastated area she had been in for hours.

When she returned home after her midterm, Lambert said her street was so filled with trucks that walking space was minimal. As she walked through, Lambert said she realized all of the vehicles belonged to volunteers and friends.

“There were people I had never seen before in my life, and this is a small town,” she said. “You can take something like this and say, ‘Wow, we really do have a great community.’ Everyone’s connected, and they’re all able to come together through it.”

Although the experience was devastating, Lambert said it has allowed her to cherish what she does have. She said it’s hard to be negative when her family and friends have surrounded her with love.

“A twister tearing through your home and you not dying is a very humbling experience,” Lambert said. “(My family is) one of the lucky ones.”

Miller said it was not unlike the people of Harrisburg to pull together after such a disaster.

“Harrisburg is pretty resilient,” she said. “You won’t see anyone not doing anything.”

Leah Stover and Lauren Duncan contributed to this report.


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