LIVE from Gifford

LIVE from Gifford

We'll post ongoing coverage of the aftermath of the tornadoes in Champaign County here.

From Julie Wurth: The National Weather Service has classified the tornado that hit Gifford on Sunday as an EF3, with peak winds of 140 miles per hour.

“That’s pretty serious business,” said State Climatologist Jim Angel of the Illinois State Water Survey.

The “Enhanced Fujita” scale rates the strength of tornadoes based on estimated wind speeds and the damage caused. The highest is an EF5, with wind speeds over 200 miles per hour. The twister that leveled 400 homes in Washington, near Peoria, was rated an EF4, according to the weather service.

National Weather Service teams surveyed the damage in Washington and Gifford after Sunday’s twisters and issued the ratings on Monday.

Only 3 percent of all tornadoes recorded from 1950 to 2010 fell in the month of November, according to Angel.

“They’re pretty rare,” he said. “This is the only one I could see where there was an outbreak like this.”
Sixteen tornadoes were reported across the state onSunday, he said, but some of those could have been multiple reports of the same tornado.

Candles light vigil

From Tim Mitchell: One night after a tornado swept across this community, people gathered at a local church to pray for one another and offer thanks.

Many in Gifford came together Monday night at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church for a candlelight vigil service.

“This is a time for us to share our faith in the Lord and to act on that faith, serving one another,” said the Rev. Steven Lombardo, the church’s pastor. “God causes all things to work together for good.”

Christina Gann of rural Gifford said the people of St. Paul’s wanted to get together to give thanks.

“Even in the midst of all this tragedy, we have so much to be thankful for,” she said. “We need to come together as a community to share thanks.”

Youth minister Gary Maxwell said the experience has helped the people of Gifford to strengthen their faith.

“A lot of people have hope because of our faith,” he said.

Meeting draws crowd

At a town meeting at Gordyville attended by hundreds, Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh said there was one report of alleged looting, but it may be a case of miscommunication.

Ameren officials are scheduled to start work rebuilding the power grid Tuesday. The goal is to have power available to Gifford by Wednesday.

On Tuesday, volunteers can report to Gordyville starting at 9 a.m. Residents in need will assemble at Country Health Care nursing home. The Red Cross, in conjunction with United Way, will try to match up volunteers and residents' requests. They will bus the volunteers to the nursing home where they'll meet the families in need.

Governor makes visit

Gov. Pat Quinn arrived in Gifford at 4:15 p.m. today, walking down Main Street with his entourage.

Speaking to officials and media at a news conference outside the Gifford Community Center, Quinn said: "Gifford is a strong town and we want it to come back stronger than ever."

Quinn said he discussed the tornado damage in the state with President Obama earlier Monday.

"We will file for federal disaster relief," Quinn said. "I spoke to the president. He promised full federal cooperation and that is something we want to expedite."

N-G employees help

About 10 News-Gazette employees have volunteered to help out in Gifford, said Traci Nally, vice president of human resources for The News-Gazette Inc., and the company will pay them for part of the time they spend doing so.

The volunteers will help the Salvation Army's disaster efforts. The News-Gazette will pay its hourly employees who volunteer for at least a four-hour shift by paying them two hours' pay. The volunteers will help provide food, water and shelter for those affected by Sunday's storm.

Home health agency in Danville collects supplies

Employees at the Whitestar Home Health Agency in Danville this week are collecting supplies for storm victims in Gifford and Mellot, Ind., a small community in Fountain County that was hit by Sunday’s severe thunderstorm.

People can drop off items such as water, Gatorade, nonperishable food items, medical supplies, blankets, pillows, diapers, baby wipes and pet food at the agency, 108 N. Vermilion St. in downtown Danville, during regular business hours until Friday, said Darci Dreher, the agency’s nursing supervisor.
“We collected supplies for the tornado victims in (Moore,) Oklahoma in May,” Dreher said. “We took a full semi and box truck down there … Now it’s time to help our own communities.”
Dreher, who lives in Covington, Ind., said she tracked news reports of the storm damage all Sunday afternoon and evening. She said she and Betsy Marvin, one of her certified nursing assistants, came up with the idea to hold a drive in Danville.
“Our contact in Gifford said they’re getting a lot of water and non-perishable food items, but they are in need of pillows and blankets,” Dreher said, adding she hopes Vermilion County folks will fill a couple of pick-up trucks and a Suburban in the next few days.

Storm misses Prairieview-Ogden school

From Fred Kroner:
FLATVILLE — St. Joseph-Ogden’s high school football team won a playoff game on Saturday evening. Less than 24 hours later, assistant coach Steve Fiscus’ mind wasn’t mostly focused on the last game or the next game.
Fiscus is the assistant principal at Prairieview-Ogden Junior High, located in Flatville. As the crow flies, it’s 6 miles south and west of Gifford.
The Flatville school was just outside of the path of a devastating Sunday afternoon tornado.
“We have no damage to our school,” Fiscus said. “It missed us by roughly a mile.”
Prairieview had a regular school day on Monday.
“We have some families that are affected,” Fiscus said, “but the majority of our district is south of Flatville.”
The last damaging tornado that touched down in eastern Champaign County was in 1996. Ogden was the hardest hit community.
“A lot of our parents (of current students) lived through that and they know what’s needed and what kind of help to give,” Fiscus said. “Gifford is only about 10 miles from Ogden.”
Prairieview-Ogden is going to start a drive to furnish school supplies to the students who attend school in Gifford.

Giflats players offer help

From Fred Kroner:

GIFFORD — Amateur baseball has been played in Gifford for more than seven decades and there will be another season in 2014.

Prior to that, current and former Gifford-Flatville players have a more immediate concern.
“I’ve volunteered our team, past and present, to help rebuild the town,” said Lindy Loschen, who coached the Giflats last summer and whose family is one of the owners of the east-side ball park. “We want to provide any help we can to rebuild the town. We’ve been playing ball here so long, the way we look at it, the town is ours.”
After walking from Gordyville into the community Monday afternoon, Loschen visited the Red Cross as well as the ballpark. What he saw within the town was worse than he feared.
“It was sickening,” he said.
The ball park sustained little damage. The concession building was undamaged, but a pavilion a few yards to the south was destroyed and one of its support poles was snapped off.

Ogden-Royal firefighters to accept items

The Ogden-Royal fire department will be hosting a donation drive for Gifford at the Ogden fire station starting Monday and going through Friday from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

Items  being accepted include: kids and adult clothing, baby supplies, blankets, toiletries, personal hygiene products, bottled water, non-perishable food, dog and cat food, first aid supplies, garbage bags and plastic totes.
Donations will be delivered by firefighters on Saturday.
The Ogden Rose Library, Ogden Village Hall and Prairieview-Ogden South will be accepting donations all week as well.

Champaign fire chief on helping out

Patrick Wade reports on more information on Champaign assistance: Champaign Fire Chief Doug Forsman said six people from the city’s building safety division and neighborhood services department are in Gifford today helping with damage assessment.

Champaign also sent a communications trailer to Gifford. Forsman said that is a state asset for which Champaign is responsible.

A number of Champaign firefighters were helping with the relief on Sunday, and Forsman himself spent time as incident commander in Gifford on Sunday. He said he didn’t see much — he was stationed in a trailer — but he was able to see some of the damage as he drove toward the town.

"Everything was good on the left, everything was good on the right, and then up the middle everything was destroyed," Forsman said.

Forsman has been in fire service for nearly 50 years. He spent 10 years working as the director of fire service at Oklahoma State University, which makes the situation in Gifford a familiar scene.

"This is not my first rodeo," Forsman said. "I’ve seen it a number of times."

Vet clinics in Paxton, Urbana boarding displaced animals

Meg Dickinson reports: Animal Clinic of Paxton is allowing residents to board their pets for as long as needed, said Dr. Kim Bunag, and by afternoon, space there was filling up.

Crossroads Veterinary Clinic north of Urbana has agreed to board any animals the Paxton clinic doesn't have space for, and also donated dog food to feed animals staying in Paxton.

While those who have lost their homes or can't stay there can often stay with family or in a hotel, it can be harder to find a space for pets, Bunag said.

Volunteers have offered to walk dogs, as well, Bunag said.

You can contact the clinic at 217-379-3800.

Gov. Quinn to tour Gifford

Gov. Pat Quinn is scheduled to visit Gifford at 3:30 p.m. today as part of a tour of damaged areas in Illinois.

Quinn will make an appearance at Gifford Community Center on Main Street before heading to Brookport.

Help on the way

Patrick Wade reports that local government agencies are sending their own crews to Gifford in the wake of Sunday's storms.

The Champaign Public Works department sent eight staff members and equipment to Gifford on Monday to help with the cleanup. They will be under the direction of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency when they get there.

Urbana Public Works Operations Manager John Collins said that city has also commited to helping with the cleanup, although they have not yet received direction on what kind of resources are needed. They'll know after an operations meeting in Gifford later Monday afternoon.
"We’ve committed to help," Collins said. "We don’t know exactly what is is we’re sending yet."
The local public works departments say it will not impede cleanup efforts in Champaign-Urbana. Collins said the damage locally was only slight.
"Two small trees down, a number of limbs, fences — just minor stuff," Collins said.
Ten Champaign firefighters were on the scene helping with the relief effort on Sunday.

Service scheduled

Jim Rossow reports that a prayer service will take place at 7:30 p.m. today at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Gifford.

“It just might be by candlelight,” said Jim Bednarz, who lives in Gifford.

Bednarz, a Champaign Police patrolman whose house — located north of U.S. 136 — was not damaged by Sunday’s tornado, said the church is being used as a hub for residents and volunteers needing hot food or simply a break.

Today through Wednesday, food will be served at the church for “anyone who needs it: workers, volunteers, residents,” St. Paul’s pastor Steven Lombardo said this afternoon.

Bednarz spent much of Monday morning helping clear debris in Gifford. He wasn’t alone.

“It’s times like these that bring out the best in people,” he said. “You hear stories of looting in Washington and it’s nothing like that here. It’s the exact opposite. It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”

Terry Strom, pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Urbana whose in-laws’ house in Gifford was destroyed Sunday afternoon, returned to the site Monday morning. Strom said he followed a convoy of “6 to 7 power trucks” into the city.

“It’s just a hub of activity,” Strom said today. “Everybody’s working together.”

Illini coaches weigh in

University of Illinois football coach Tim Beckman talked about Gifford Monday morning:

"That hits us directly," he said. "If we are able to today, we will take some football players; if we are able to help in any way, shape or form, this football team is willing to do that. Our best goes out to that area." 

Illinois volleyball coach Kevin Hambly made it a point to salute Gifford during a Monday news conference on campus.

"To see that happen in your home state, that really hits home," Hambly said. "That's something that's on our whole team's mind."

Said soccer coach Janet Rayfield: "Our team wants to express our thoughts and prayers."

MDA Central Illinois Chapter wants to help

Families with ALS or any type of muscular dystrophy needing assistance are asked to call the MDA office at 217-351-1853.

Chamber sets up emergency grant program

The Champaign County Chamber of Commerce has established an emergency relief grant program to help businesses in the Gifford area — and elsewhere in the county — recover from damage related to the weekend storms.

Businesses could use the money for building materials, labor costs associated with rebuilding and direct costs related to business operations.

They could also use the grants to replace inventory, meet payroll, pay bills and buy new equipment such as computers, printers and office supplies.

"The size of the grants will be based on the amount we raise," said Laura Weis, the chamber president and CEO. "The goal is to start making the grants available as soon as next week."

Donations can be made payable to: Community Foundation of East Central Illinois, c/o Business Emergency Relief Grant Program, 307 W. University Ave., Champaign, IL 61820.

Checks can also be dropped off at the chamber of commerce office, 303 W. Kirby Ave., C,

Weis said she hopes the chamber's 1,200 members can donate to the program so affected businesses can have cash to bridge their operations until they can get affairs in order.

Having the Community Foundation act as fiscal agent will allow for donations to be tax-deductible, the chamber stated in a release.

Any unused money will remain in the grant program for businesses that might need it in the future.

According to the chamber, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reports that 40 percent of businesses don't reopen after a disaster and another 25 percent fail in the first year after a disaster.

The U.S. Small Business Administration indicates the failure rate increases to 90 percent the second year after a disaster, the chamber stated.

No power till late tonight for Gifford.

News-Gazette staff writer Tom Kacich sends this via Twitter: "Sheriff Walsh says prob no power into Gifford until late tonight. Then individual homes will be hooked up."

United Way collecting bottled water at two Champaign locations

The United Way of Champaign County will collected bottled water for tornado relief between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Monday at the WDWS/WHMS/WKIO radio station at 2301 S. Neil St., C.

Those who want to donate can drive through to drop off water.

The organization is also accepting bottled water at its office between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at its office at 404 W. Church St., C.

Day 2 of the Gifford cleanup is in full swing

News-Gazette staff writer Julie Wurth reports: Only residents and emergency crews were being allowed into town Monday morning as debris was being cleared from streets.
According to Rick Atterberry, Champaign County EMA public information officer, insurance adjustors were canvassing the area. Atterberry said a national weather service plane flew over Gifford this morning to gauge the strength of the tornado.
Residents won’t be allowed to bring in their own contractors until Tuesday morning, once the roads are cleared, Atterberry said.
At the Ehler Farm east of Thomasboro, about a dozen people were busy pulling farm equipment from a half-destroyed shed. In a nearby field sat displaced metal bins and upside down trailers.
Sunday’s tornado just missed Thomasboro and roared over U.S. 45,  touching down a mile east at the Ehler farm.
John Ehler, 30, said he and his wife were watching news coverage of the storm when he looked out the window and saw a tornado coming from across the street. Then he saw the top half of his pine street fly by the window.
“It was unlike anything I have ever seen before,” Ehler said this morning. 
He and his wife grabbed their 3-year-old son, who was napping, and ducked into the basement. They huddled for 4 to 5 minutes until the tornado passed.
Next door, Ehler’s cousin, Bev Ehler, had just finished cleaning her fish pond when she heard a loud “whoosh” as she walked back inside.
Looking out her back window, she saw almost nothing left of her farm. The tornado had destroyed a half-dozen sheds and grain bins and hurled trucks and fuel tanks into the cornfield.
A 5x7 piece of shed was lodged in her oak tree and metal from a grain bin wrapped around a fuel tank like aluminum foil.

Champaign church collecting supplies, will deliver this evening

Grace Lutheran Church in Champaign is collecting aid supplies for tornado victims in Gifford. Supplies will be delivered to Gifford as early as this evening and will continue as needed and available. Examples of items needed: moving boxes and materials, plastic totes, blankets, towels, bar soap, toothpaste and toothbrushes, toilet paper, non-perishable foods, bottled water, disposable gloves and masks for clean-up crews. Please bring to Grace Lutheran Church, 313 S. Prospect Ave, C.

United Way assisting with tornado relief

The United Way of Champaign County is helping Gifford residents in several ways.
Its staff members are working to help the Red Cross Monday, said United Way President Sue Grey, and those who want to be added to the Red Cross' list of volunteers can call the United Way to leave their names and numbers. You can reach the United Way at 217-352-5151.
The United Way will also be collecting financial donations between 6 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in Champaign, behind WCIA in the 500 block of South Randolph Street.
That money will be distributed to the United Way's nonprofit partners who will help with disaster relief, Grey said.
Fire district holds donation drive
The St. Joseph-Stanton Fire Protection District will be holding a donation drive on Tuesday at the fire station for Gifford.
The drive will be from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the station at 222 E. Warren St.
The district has asked the Red Cross if it can provide a trailer to collect donations. If that is not available, the district’s firefighters will use their own trucks and take the items to Gordyville for distribution.
The district is collecting clothing for kids and adults, coats, blankets, non-perishable food items, bottled water, baby items, toiletries, personal hygiene products, dog food, cat food, first aid supplies, over the counter medicines, garbage bags and plastic storage totes.
The district will not be accepting monetary donations. Monetary donations can be dropped off at the Gifford State Bank in St. Joseph located at 107 W Warren St.
Bird rescue will board displaced pets

William Schlunaker of Parrot Palace animal rescue in Georgetown said he can board birds of all shapes and sizes, but said he hasn't heard from any Gifford residents yet.

Parrot Palace is a rescue licensed with the state's department of agriculture, Schlunaker said.

“I'm just trying to do my part,” he said.

If you need to find a place for your bird, you can contact him at 217-799-3227.

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sweet caroline wrote on November 18, 2013 at 2:11 pm

God bless not only the victims of the tornadoes, but everyone who is volunteering in any way to help.  How wonderful that people are stepping forward to provide housing for pets, as well!