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Severe Weather and Tornadoes in November

Governor Pat Quinn declared seven Illinois counties disaster areas after tornadoes that killed at least six people, injured dozens more and caused damage across the state.


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The communities in Illinois that are still recovering from last fall’s deadly and devastating tornadoes will receive a $45 million funding boost from the state.

The money will help nine counties rebuild homes and roads.

The state was forced to come up with the money because the federal government rejected the request for financial assistance.

Gov. Quinn visited the hard-hit community of Washington on Wednesday.

“Well, part of it is leveraging the money. There are opportunities for many people who had private insurance in order to begin the rebuilding process. So, once you make a government investment, you try to have a public-private partnership that leverages the money and gets as much as possible into the rebuilding process. Clearly, our insurance companies are part of the equation here too,” said Quinn.

U.S. Senators Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin plan to propose new guidelines for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to ensure a more generous response to future requests for disaster aid.

WGN News Writer C. Hayes published this story.

The federal government on Thursday denied Gov. Pat Quinn’s request for disaster aid to help nine counties clean up following November’s deadly tornadoes, saying damage was not severe enough to require extra help.

The Democratic governor said he was “disappointed” by the decision, but said he plans to appeal the denial within the required 30 days.

“The state of Illinois will continue doing everything necessary to help our hardest hit communities rebuild and recover from these historic tornadoes,” Quinn said in a statement.

The decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency means local governments in storm-ravaged counties are ineligible to receive reimbursement for 75 percent of clean-up costs, including removal of debris, fixing damaged public property and related overtime expenses for workers.

The counties impacted are Champaign, Douglas, Grundy, Massac, Tazewell, Vermilion, Washington, Wayne and Woodford.

It’s the second time in recent years that federal officials have denied Quinn’s request for aid to help defray costs for towns hit by deadly tornadoes. The first came in 2012, after tornadoes killed seven people in downstate Harrisburg.

For counties to receive help, Illinois must document at least $17.8 million in clean-up costs. But state emergency officials tallied costs related to clean up from the November tornadoes at just over $6 million.

A letter from FEMA to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said a review “determined that the damage to the infrastructure from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to warrant the implementation of the public assistance program.”

Quinn’s office contends the federal calculation that bases aid on population works against states like Illinois that are geographically large but have a higher concentration of people in urban centers such as Chicago.  Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Mark Kirk also expressed disappointment in FEMA’s decision, saying it will hamper towns as they try to rebuild.

The assistance for towns is separate from that given to individuals and businesses, and federal officials have already approved more than $10 million to help home and business owners recover.

It’s  good music, for a great cause tonight in Bloomington.  A concert has been organized to help the tornado victims in Washington and all across central Illinois.

Two of illinois best known bands,  classic rock legends,  Chicago’s own Styx and Champaign’s REO Speedwagon are the headliners for this concert being put on by the Rock to the Rescue charity, a non profit started by members of those two bands.

The music starts at 7 p.m.  at US Cellular Coliseum and the event is sold out.

The proceeds will go to a number of charities helping tornado victims including the Midwest Food Bank, Tazwood Community Services and Toys for the Tots.

People bought tickets to help the recovery efforts as well as hear and sing along to some of their favorite songs from Styx and REO Speedwagon and the other bands performing tonight.  Members of the bands and comedian Larry the Cable Guy took a tour of Washington and other affected areas earlier.

Richard Marx, Ted Nugent, local band Head East and a number of other groups are also set to play.

Although the event is sold out, you can still help the cause.  More information at:

Despite the Tornado devastation, residents in Washington, IL said they have so much to be thankful for.

Volunteers and church members gathered at Crossroads United Methodist Church to prepare 1,200 meals today for families who lost their home in the tornado.

Families enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, turkey, stuffing and pie for dessert.

Many lost material things but said they said the most important things remain; family and friends.

The Johnson Family lost everything in the tornado and barely made it to shelter before it hit.

“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Charles Johnson said. “It’s humbling, everyone’s working to put on a Thanksgiving. Usually we have it at our own home, and of course we don’t have that anymore, so we thank everybody. This community has been great, people have been great clear across the state and it is really humbling how generous people really are.”

Crossroads served as a Red Cross Shelter the day the tornado hit, housing hundreds of people until it was safe to go home.

Dozens of families have even made it their home in the days since.

The church’s pastor said their annual Thanksgiving dinner tradition takes on a new meaning this year.

“One of the things that has been impressive to me is not just to see the people who have lost so much grieve because I think we all grieve those losses, but more so to see them emphasize and be grateful for the things that survived, the thing that remained in tact,” Pastor Casey Taylor, Crossroads United Methodist Church. “Their families, their friends, their church families, the people in their community.”

In addition to providing dinner at the church, Crossroads also delivered hundreds of Thanksgiving meals to people throughout Washington.

WGN News Writer, Judith Ruiz-Branch contributed to this story.

A little holiday cheer comes to tornado-stricken Washington, Illinois: Gov. Pat Quinn, a local congressman and the Chicago Blackhawks Charities helped provide a Thanksgiving meal.

They shared a meal, a few laughs and a lot of stories about the day Washington was hit by the tornado.

Gary McBride talked about his neighbor Jeff Siltman. The two were outside their homes doing lawn work on November 17 when Jeff saw the twister coming and helped Gary and his wife to safety.

There were many stories like this during the lunch at Five Points Community Center. It gave tornado survivors, first responders and volunteers a much needed break from the difficult task of rebuilding.

Congressman Aaron Shock organized the event that fed more than 1,000 people.

“The rebuilding is going to take several years, but what’s important that we keep these relationships strong,” Shock said.

Quinn attended the event along with the president of the Chicago Blackhawks, Jon McDonough, who presented a $200,000 donation from the hockey team to the city’s relief fund.

One 6-year-old tornado survivor got the thrill of a lifetime from McDonough: tickets for a game.

A survivors song and video about the tornado brought some to tears.

Volunteer Nick Pacelli says the disaster, brought a close knit town, even closer together.

“The message is that, you know, you’re not alone in this. You’re together in this. And, we’re not just going to be here one day for you, we’re not just going to be here a week for you, we’re going to be here every day,” he said.

Donation sites are available beginning Tuesday, November 26.

Individuals should be prepared to unload their own items. These locations will accept bulk and individual donations.

Hagerty Brothers

1506 Detweiller Drive in Peoria

8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Catholic Charities

1825 NE Adams Street in Peoria

8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Monetary donations are being accepted at all branches of Morton Community Bank, including Washington Community Bank, and can be made to the Washington Tornado Relief Fund.

Call 309-444-1700 for more information.

A Chicago Public Schools teacher, who is from Washington, Illinois, says she’s amazed by the generosity of her students and their families.

Leah Putnam shared pictures of the devastation with her fifth grade students at Jordan Elementary Community School in Rogers Park.

She says 97% of the school’s students live at the “low income” level.

The students were so overwhelmed by the devestation, they decided to hold a fundraiser.

They made a collection jar for each classroom to for quarters and dollars and called it “Washingtons for Washington.”

The students collected $3039.11 for students in Washington whose families have lost their homes.

Ms. Putnam said her students “taught me that sometimes the people who have the least, give the most.”

President Barack Obama approved federal aid for 15 Illinois counties recovering from the deadly tornadoes that struck the state on Nov. 17.

The approval comes just one day after Gov. Pat Quinn submitted the request.

“Just days before Thanksgiving, this is good news for thousands of people in Illinois who have suffered so much,” Quinn said in a statement. “I thank President Obama for his swift approval that will bring much-needed federal relief to those who desperately need it in the wake of these deadly storms. I encourage everyone who suffered damage or loss from the Nov. 17 tornadoes to register for grants and low-interest loans that will help them rebuild their lives.”

At least 24 tornadoes were reported on Nov. 17. The counties that will receive federal assistance are: Champaign, Douglas, Fayette, Grundy, Jasper, LaSalle, Massac, Pope, Tazewell, Vermilion, Wabash, Washington, Wayne, Will and Woodford counties.

Anyone impacted by the Nov. 17 tornadoes should register for the grants and low-interest loans they may be eligible for. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers the assistance program, has a toll-free telephone number (1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for hearing and speech impaired) for victims to apply for assistance. Registration can also be done online at

For more information about disaster recovery resources, including shelters and ways to help tornado survivors, visit

On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Kirk visited town of Washington, Ill., to see for himself what happened the tornadoes blew through last week.

The state’s congressional delegation is asking President Obama to declare 15 counties disaster areas, clearing the way for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help.

Washington’s mayor says he’d love for Kirk to come back in a year to help the celebrate how much they’ve accomplished after their recovery.

In all, 24 tornadoes touched down in Illinois on November 17.

Songs of faith like “You raised me up” played at St. Patrick’s church at 11:05 a.m. Sunday. It’s the same time the tornado hit Washington one week ago.
“We were right on the line on the tornado,” said Eric Mickaels who took shelter with his family in their basement during the twister. Sunday, they gave thanks in their church, “This is both emotional and spiritually uplifting because we firmly believe we were protected by God’s hands or angels or whatever it was.”

Father Steve Willard and more than 200 parishioners were here at the church when the tornado hit. Twenty minutes later, they held mass in the dark, it brought new meaning this being a sanctuary, “We were all scared in a sense we weren’t sure what had happened out there, just a couple of news things coming in through the texts, but I think we always find our peace here.”

Saint Pat’s was filled with tornado survivors this morning; the sermon focused on being hopeful about rebuilding, and not being too prideful to accept help.

All the donations of clothing, food and toiletries were collected by the church to help tornado victims. They turned the gym for the school into a place where people can find something to eat and a shoulder to cry on.

Rich Oljace and his family lost everything. But they say St. Pat’s and other groups have been there with a helping hand, “We don’t want for anything. It’s just very comforting, knowing we have this community to support us.”

It was an emotional service. Washington tornado victim Steve Neubauer and other lives lost were mourned. People here say they are just thankful to have this Sunday, with their faith and their familes.

Residents of Washington, Illinois, got a chance to return to what’s left of their homes Friday morning.  Some were lucky to salvage what they hoped to find.  Others left empty-handed.

Sunday’s tornado destroyed hundreds of homes and damaged hundreds more.

Plows and backhoes spent much of Thursday clearing away the debris.  Today, residents of Georgetown Common Apartments  complex got 30 minutes each to go back home to grab what they could.  Guillermo Herrerra  found only a broken window.  He lost everything.

Others retrieved clothes.  One resident retrieved a flat screen TV.  Another resident, found a prized possession.  A soccer trophy.

“It’s so special,” 8 year old Cameron Zimmerman told WGN’-TVS Tony Francisco.  “It’s my first trophy I ever won in my life,”  she added.

Zimmerman’s mother said they got what they came for.  “Thirty minutes,” said Cindy Zimmerman.  “We’re done.   We got what we wanted, pictures and a trophy.”

FEMA teams are assessing the damage and assuring storm victims that their losses will be well documented, and the government will provide emergency and long-term relief.