UPDATED: Weather keeping Gifford residents rattled

GIFFORD — Three months after a tornado ripped through the northeastern Champaign County village of Gifford, piles of snow stand throughout town, there's a boil order at the water plant and a community support group was unable to meet Monday because of another winter storm.

With weather forecasters calling for thunderstorms Thursday, some townspeople fear they'll get another reminder of the Nov. 17 tornado.

"This really started about three weeks ago, when we had a somewhat nice day followed by a huge front that passed through with 50, 60 mile per hour winds," said Christina Gann, operations manager at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, who led a community meeting Tuesday night. "Those winds that night moved furniture that had not moved during the tornado.

"And that really set our families off. It just caused flashbacks. It's post-traumatic stress syndrome is what it is. That's what it is for these families."

"The storms might be a little more on your radar now," said Jamie Davis of the Red Cross told about 100 people at the community meeting.

Gann recounted a conversation she had with a friend dreading Thursday's predicted storm.

"He said, 'Just get me through Thursday.'

"People are already anticipating what they're going to feel. I spoke with Mister (Rod) Grimsley, the superintendent at the grade school. They're in the process of preparing the kids for Thursday. It's too reminiscent of what happened just before the tornado hit," she said.

Grimsley said Wednesday that "we did some preventative measures yesterday with our school psychologist and our school social worker in preparation for tomorrow. And we've got some whole group information from our school psychologist to use in the classroom to use for the whole classes, if we need it."

The superintendent said he was "leery of March with storms coming up. I was hoping that Mother Nature would let us at least get to March but I saw the forecast on Sunday and I said, 'Oh, this isn't going to be good because we're going to have kids who will be freaking out.'"

The schoolchildren were fine today, Grimsley said.

"We're going to openly talk about it ahead of time and let the kids know that it's a natural process, it's something that happens. We'll just reiterate that there was a bad storm that came through here and there was a lot of physical damage but there were no lives lost.

"And as far as we're concerned they're safe here (at school). We have a big old brick building that can withstand as much as or more than what homes could."

The National Weather Service in Lincoln is forecasting thunderstorms with potentially damaging winds Thursday afternoon and evening. Gusts could get as high as 40 to 50 mph in East Central Illinois.

Thursday "will be a very difficult time for our families. They've lost so much and now to have to relive it again, it's going to be hard," Gann said.

She did have good news at the community meeting. She said she expected waves of volunteer groups to begin arriving in Gifford the week of March 24, starting with 40 students from St. Olaf College in Minnesota.

"That's what we're anticipating. We don't know that for sure but we think that will be the case," she said, noting that the Lutheran church would resume providing free luncheons for workers again that week.

Also Tuesday, Thrivent Financial, working with the local Habitat for Humanity, said it would provide up to 20 grants of $2,500 for home repair projects.

Gann urged townspeople not to be reluctant to accept the charity offered by others.

"We have resources that are going to be more abundant than what our needs are," she said. "But it's not going to work unless you're at a point where you're willing to receive.

"There's going to be more here than what we know what do with. And if you accept the help from one of these many organizations, you're not taking away from someone else. There will be another organization that will help them just as much."

Another community meeting is scheduled to be held at the church March 4.

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