'That's a miracle in itself'
GIFFORD — His home destroyed just moments earlier by a tornado that came and went in a matter of minutes, Bob Hesterberg did what folks in Gifford do when times get tough.
He gathered family for a prayer, checked in on friends, found a working phone, dialed a contractor and reserved a spot on the waiting list to rebuild.
By nightfall Sunday, it was already a lengthy list.
"This is an old German community where people pull themselves up from their bootstraps," Hesterberg's son-in-law, Urbana pastor Terry Strom, said Sunday night. "It's really cool to see them all come together as a family like this."
Before the sirens blared Sunday, Strom had seen devastation like what happened here twice before. But that was during missionary work, in hurricane-raged Haiti and post-Katrina New Orleans — more famous spots on the map. "I never expected to see them in Gifford, Illinois," he said.
Throughout the coming days, the nation will learn more about this cozy community of less than 1,000, which was among the hardest hit during Sunday's tornado outbreak across the Midwest.
They'll hear accounts of the house that was ripped completely from its foundation and somehow landed in the middle of Park Street; of one family's dog, which took shelter in the crawl space, only to be found after the storm, unharmed, in the neighbor's basement. They'll see images of homes on the north side of town, where Champaign Police patrolman Jim Bednarz and his family have lived the past 13 years, and what's left of the center of town, which looks "like a rolling bomb went off," as Bednarz put it.
But with power still out and the shock yet to wear off Sunday night, many residents focused on what didn't happen as they huddled at St. Paul's Lutheran Church and read texts offering help from hundreds across Champaign County.
"I've probably talked to 100 people here and, as far as we know, there were very few injuries and no fatalities," Bednarz said. "That's a miracle in itself."