The central Illinois community flattened by an EF4 tornado one year ago (November 17, 2013) is bouncing back.
Washington City Administrator Tim Gleason credits the town’s residents with making the strong recovery possible.
“We have a good school system. It's a great community. And really the credit goes to the residents. They want to return. They want to raise their families in Washington,” said Gleason.
800 homes were either destroyed by the tornado or so severely damaged they were uninhabitable.
Gleason said 150 have now been rebuilt or repaired and are occupied, and building permits have been issued for 75% of the damaged/destroyed homes.
“The recovery has exceeded our expectations,” he said.
Gleason anticipated construction will continue through the winter. He estimated the community will be 85% - 90% recovered by the end of 2015.
Gleason reviewed the recovery after talking to an emergency management class at Western Illinois University. He said Washington had a disaster recovery plan in place before the tornado struck.
“It probably was in the first several days before we pulled it out to make sure that we were following the disaster recovery plan because just so many things were happening so quickly,” Gleason said.
He found city leaders had followed the plan pretty closely even though they did not initially consult it. He said he’s done a lot of “Monday morning quarterbacking” in the past year and feels no bad decisions were made. However, he wishes more law enforcement checkpoints had been set up. People who lived in parts of town damaged by the tornado had to go through those checkpoints to get back to their property.
“What I would have done if I could have a do-over is I would have opened up even more checkpoints so that people weren’t sitting in lines for as long as they were to get through that checkpoint and inside to their home.”
Gleason also said businesses that were not physically damaged were still affected because they lost a portion of their customer base. He said he’s remained in direct contact with those businesses in hopes of ensuring they do not close their doors.
Gleason also recommended community leaders get to know their county’s emergency management director, who plays an important role in disaster recovery. He said community leaders should at least sit down for a cup of coffee or lunch with the director so they can get to know each other.