In a time of division, volunteers unite to help communities hurt by tornadoes

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OTTAWA -- Four days after a deadly tornado swept across Lasalle County, taking two lives and dozens of homes, there’s still a lot of cleanup work to be done.

And at a time of bitter political division, something remarkable is happening at the birthplace of modern political debate. In Ottawa’s Washington Park, where Lincoln and Douglas first tussled 159 years ago, the only argument now is over who can help the most. Hundreds of volunteers lent a hand in the effort, as a tornado that tore so much apart brought so many together.

“Who cares about politics right now? We’re trying to keep bureaucracy out of this and do everything we can to make us feel whole again,” said Megan Skelly of the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce.

Hundreds of volunteers came to the city of 18,000, where a powerful EF3 tornado ripped through dozens of homes and businesses on Tuesday, causing serious damage and taking two lives.

"It broke my heart watching the news and seeing these people had lost everything," said volunteer Judy Brenzing, who came to help from the South Side of Chicago.

Even a group from a rival high school in Newark, 20 miles away, joined the effort.

"We do have our rivalries in sports, but at the end of the day it all comes down to, we’re one community in good and bad times," said 16-year-old volunteer Olivia Nelson.

For one afternoon in Ottawa’s Washington Park, about that, there was no debate.

Clean up crews are still working in the area where homes were leveled. Those families will need shelter, and resources, so authorities are asking anyone who wants to help to donate to official agencies which can connect the resources to the people.