GIFFORD — John Christians of Gifford was behind the wheel of his pickup truck when a tornado blew into town Sunday afternoon.
"I was coming around the corner onto Central Street when the storm hit," Christians said. "My truck was rocking, but that wasn't the worst of it. There were building materials hitting my truck and knocking the windows out."
Christians said he got down in his truck as far as he could.
"I was worried about some of that debris hitting me. I could hear some big stuff hitting my truck, but I couldn't see nothing.
"When it was all over, there was a two by four stuck in my truck."
When Christians finally reached his house, he saw that it had been totaled by the swirling winds.
"My home was completely gone," he said. "I had two vehicles there, and they were destroyed."
Christians was one of hundreds of Gifford residents affected by Sunday's tornado.
All those interviewed by The News-Gazette said the storm lasted just a few minutes, but the tornado created a swath of damage across the center of this northern Champaign County community.
Four people were reported injured. And Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said 20 homes were destroyed, with dozens more seriously damaged.
Many of those left homeless by the storm headed to Country Health Care, where a shelter had been set up.
Peggy and Dennis Buchner were at home when the tornado arrived.
"I was sitting in the living room, and suddenly the winds picked up really fast," Peggy Buchner said. "There were leaves and debris flying all over the place.
"The windows were shaking, so I ran to the bedroom to grab my eight-year-old granddaughter."
Dennis Buchner was at the front door of his home watching the rain come down as the twister arrived.
"All of a sudden I saw what I can only describe as a sideways fog moving really fast in a horizontal direction," he said. "The noise was getting louder and louder."
The Buchners said the walls of their home moved back and forth.
"You could feel the house flexing in and out like it was breathing," Peggy Buchner said.
Lori Sage was working as a bartender at the North Forty bar on South Main Street. About 10 people were in the establishment at the time, with many of them watching the Chicago Bears football game.
"When we saw the post office windows blow out across the street, we all ran into the walk-in cooler," Sage said. "It was as safe as it was going to get."
Sage listened as the storm blew across Gifford.
"It pretty much sounded like a train was going through," she said.
Richard Albers spent Sunday afternoon sorting through the debris outside what used to be his home on Gifford's west side.
"All we can do now is look for the important stuff and try to salvage it," he said.
Albers, his wife and son and his son's girlfriend waited out the storm in the basement.
"When the warning whistle went off, we headed for the basement," he said. "It happened so fast.
"It didn't take but a minute, and we knew it was past. Now there's nothing left. It took the car and everything."
Bill Mulvaney, his wife and two daughters endured the storm from their home's bathroom.
"We don't have a crawl space, so we got into the bathroom," he said.
"There's an old adage that a tornado sounds like a freight train, and that's what it sounded like to us. The wind started blowing all my patio furniture off the deck, and I have no idea where it's at. And when we got into the bathroom, I started to hear stuff flying all over the place."
Mulvaney's back yard was covered with the contents of his home's master bedroom on the second floor.
"Our bedroom is no longer in existence," he said.
Debbie Farmer of Gifford was home with her son and his girlfriend when the twister hit Gifford.
"We heard the sirens going off, so we knew it was serious," Farmer said. "All of a sudden there was breaking glass, and a horrible wind was going through the walls. It was very scary."
The back end of Farmer's home was damaged. "At least my house is still standing," she said. "Many others weren't so lucky."
Sage said she thought it was wonderful that so many neighbors were working together to help one another out, putting back together the community's homes and lives following a harrowing experience.
"It shows what a small community does when everybody pitches in," she said.