GIFFORD — Sen. Dick Durbin told Gifford residents on Tuesday that he has been impressed by their determination to rebuild their community following the Nov. 17 tornado.
"God bless you, and I'm glad that no one lost their life," Durbin said. "Injuries were at least manageable for some, and folks are pulling together to get this community back."
Gifford Mayor Derald Ackerman took Durbin, along with local, county and state officials, on a walking tour of some of the devastation from the tornado.
Along the way, Durbin stopped to visit Bibb's Country Restaurant, where he complimented owner Lorin Schluter for keeping the business open following the disaster.
"We're not complaining one bit," Schluter said.
"This is an amazing outpouring of effort," Durbin said. "People here have been helping one another, getting ready to tear down homes and start over. Folks have been working day and night to put things back in shape for themselves and their families."
Ackerman said the process of rebuilding homes has begun.
"They are getting their contractors lined up," he said. "It would be nice if this were in the spring, though. Going into the winter, rebuilding is going to be tough."
Durbin said he and his staff are doing everything they can to get resources available to help.
The senator also praised the first responders and other emergency personnel.
"My hat's off to the first responders," he said. "Some real sacrifices and real courage was shown to try to protect families from this terrible tornado."
Jonathon E. Monken, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said a federal disaster declaration is in place for assistance for individuals and businesses.
The next step will be qualifying Illinois for federal public assistance. Monken said this money reimburses local governments' costs incurred as a result of the disaster.
Officials in the affected counties are documenting those costs.
"It gets to be a numbers game," Monken said. "We go into the details as to what costs were incurred and track those."
If the state is able to document at least $17.8 million of qualifying public expenses, Monken said the federal government will reimburse local governments for 75 percent of those costs.
Monken said Champaign County has already done its part, exceeding its public threshold of about $720,000.
Ackerman said the village's water plant equipment is now operational, even though the building that housed the equipment is gone.
"We've got a tent over the water plant equipment with two heaters to keep it warm," he said.
Ackerman said water samples were sent to Springfield on Tuesday in the hope of lifting Gifford's boil order.
"Once the state says it is OK to lift the boil order, which I hope, we could lift it by this weekend," Ackerman said.
Ackerman said Gifford lost its village hall (including the water office and police department), maintenance shed, police patrol car, snowplows and truck.
'Actually we lost everything," he said.