WASHINGTON, Ill. (BP) — Pictures don’t accurately capture the destruction, people in Washington, Ill., say when they talk about the tornado that stunned this city of 15,000 on Nov. 17. And, they say, it’s the kind of thing that happens to other people, but on that Sunday morning it happened in Washington.
“You see it and you think, ‘I’ve seen this on TV before.’ It’s always on TV. But this is real. This is us,” Susan Schildt said as she sat with a bowl of soup in First Baptist Church’s fellowship hall in Washington. She and others trying to salvage what they can from their homes came by for a lunch prepared by church members and served buffet style. Pastor Joshua Monda publicized the free meal on Facebook.
The Schildts’ home is no longer livable. Susan was at church Sunday morning, talking to her husband Donald on the phone when the line suddenly went dead. He hunkered under an overturned couch while their son Daniel took cover in a walk-in closet. The family reunited soon after the storm.
“We’re alive; that’s all that matters,” she told a friend at lunch on Wednesday (Nov. 20). “It’s all stuff. I keep telling myself it’s just stuff.”
Phil Jones, another First Baptist member who lost his home, stands outside the fellowship hall, talking on his cell phone. He breaks away from his conversation long enough to say he’s doing OK, that he’s living on adrenaline right now. But as soon as that ends, he plans to crash, he says with a smile.
Roland Manor Baptist Church across town is serving as an incident command center for Illinois Baptist disaster relief. Thirty-five volunteers currently are serving in Washington and other nearby communities, clearing debris and putting tarps on roofs. Another crew is working in Peoria to cook 1,600 meals a day for the volunteers and other storm responders and victims.
Recovery work in Washington is slow, as police keep the most damaged neighborhoods blocked off to everyone except residents. First Baptist was difficult to get to in the days following the storm, but they were able to open it for lunch Wednesday.
“We gotta do something,” Monda, the pastor, said.
Disaster relief volunteers also moved quickly into several other communities affected by the swath of severe weather that moved across the Midwest, doing its worst in Illinois.
In the southern part of the state, First Baptist Church in Metropolis served as a Red Cross shelter for families who lost their homes in tiny Brookport, where an EF-3 tornado killed three people. Church members cooked 300 meals a day for victims and relief workers.
“Disaster relief has become a large part of our church’s ministry,” pastor Joe Buchanan said. This is the fourth disaster in five years when the church has served as a shelter.
Chainsaw teams began working in and around Brookport two days after the storm, with more than 50 volunteers serving Tuesday and Wednesday. A team also worked in New Minden, Ill., where officials reported two storm-related deaths.
“Disaster relief volunteers from all over Illinois have responded quickly and in large number to the many recovery needs after these storms,” said Rex Alexander, Illinois Baptists’ disaster relief coordinator. “They are serving to meet both physical and spiritual needs of homeowners in several areas around the state, even in cold weather and rain.”
Other states have offered to help and will likely be called on if the callout extends for another week or two, Alexander said. With lower temperatures in the forecast for Washington, Missouri Baptist disaster relief is sending a shower trailer that can be used in cold weather.
For more information about Illinois Baptists’ post-tornado disaster relief and recovery, go to www.ib2news.org.
Meredith Flynn is managing editor of the Illinois Baptist (www.ibsa.org/illinoisbaptist?), newsjournal of the Illinois Baptist State Association.