COAL CITY, Ill. -- One year ago today, an EF-3 tornado ripped through Coal City - a small Illinois town about an hour and a half southwest of Chicago.
That day, no one died, but almost 900 homes were leveled totaling over $3 million in damages. However, the financial damage to Coal City, doubled in the past year.
The city has rebuilt almost 100%. The once debris filled rural blocks are now symbols of progress. 100% progress by volunteers. Pastor Mark Hughey and his team for a solid year have seen to it.
Pastor Hughey runs the new Hope Presbyterian Church and also the volunteer program for the long term recovery committee.
"We've done everything from crawling down underneath houses in crawls spaces to repair furnaces and plumbing, tearing houses down,” he says.
While Mark and his crews were painting and repairing, Matt Frtiz was manning the village money. Over $800,000 in donations flooded the Coal City coffers from people around the country.
Fritz makes it clear, because of the budget mess in Springfield, legislators were unwilling to raise money for this cause. Coal City had $3 million in damages. But after paying bills and taking on more debt, the village of 6,000 is now $6 million in the hole.
“There are no funds available to help residents of Coal City,” Fritz says.
State disaster recovery funds don't exist and Illinois didn't meet the threshold for assistance from FEMA. Damages statewide came to $15 million. FEMA required $18.1 million.
It left many people to rebuild on their own.
But the bright spots are undeniable. Blankets made by women from the pastor's church go to every family touched by the effects of the tornado.
And only 14 families are still asking for help from the village one year later.
While the money crisis continues to plague village administrators, the volunteers who've cleaned up and recovered everything from sunglasses to storm trooper helmets have restored not only most of Coal City.
Coal City believes its about 95% rebuilt and about one year ahead of schedule. In part because of the donations and huge volunteer efforts that rolled in.