PAXTON — Businesses and agencies in Ford County are doing what they can to help the nearby Gifford community that was devastated by a tornado Sunday.
The Paxton Record, 208 N. Market St. in Paxton, is serving as a collection site for donations of toiletries — including toothpaste, soap, hairbrushes, combs, toilet paper, paper towels, shampoo, bodywash, laundry soap, fabric softener, diapers and deodorant — along with gift cards, pet food, plywood, nails, screws, and moving/packaging supplies. All of the items received will be brought to Gifford.
Another drop-off site is at Shields Automart on West Ottawa Road next to Interstate 57 in Paxton. Among items needed are bottled water, canned goods, clothing, cleaning supplies and toiletries.
Also, the Illinois Knights Templar Home in Paxton has offered to house displaced Gifford residents temporarily, but the nursing home has not yet heard back from Gifford officials about whether that will happen.
Workers for Gibson City and Paxton also have been to Gifford to try to help get water service restored to the community, after a wall caved in at Gifford's water plant during Sunday's tornado. Three Paxton water department workers — Jeff Ingold, Dave Fredrickson and Rick Malivuk — went to help Sunday night. Gibson City's maintenance manager, Dutch Pruitt, went there Monday morning.
"That's small-town stuff," said Randy Swan, superintendent of Paxton's streets and alleys department. "Everybody else tries to help everybody else."
Ford County Sheriff Mark Doran has also offered to Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh to have a couple of Ford County's deputies be available to relieve Champaign County's deputies in Gifford if needed.
Other than some fallen tree limbs, downed power lines and a couple of sheds that were blown over, Ford County avoided the kind of destruction that was caused by Sunday's storm system in northern Champaign County.
No tornado touched down in Ford County; there were only straight-line winds, officials said.
"We were very fortunate," said Swan.
Ford County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Dennis Higgins said he spent most of Sunday afternoon in Gifford and the surrounding rural area. Higgins said he first checked about a dozen homes in the country around Gifford, all of which were "completely gone or not livable at all," to make sure nobody was still in the homes or injured. Higgins then went into Gifford to assist.
"I checked about 12 miles in all," Higgins said. "I just found one gentleman with a cut to his head. He was on Route 49 in Vermilion County. His family ended up taking him to Hoopeston's hospital."
Paxton Fire Chief Denny Kingren said six Paxton firefighters also went to Gifford on Sunday and helped search and secure homes. They stayed about four or five hours.
"We were just helping make sure that the homes were unoccupied," Kingren said. "We found nothing. There were a lot of folks working on that project."
Gibson Area Ambulance Service also sent two ambulance crews to Gifford.
Paxton Emergency Response Service Director Ed Hanson said his agency also brought a team of volunteers to Gifford to help around 3:30 p.m. Sunday, but were denied entry to the village.
"They turned us back and said they didn't need more help," Hanson said. "Cars were parked two miles outside of Gifford, and people were walking into town."
Both Swan and Randy Stauffer, the city superintendent in Gibson City, said the only damage in Paxton and Gibson City was fallen tree limbs.
Doran said the rest of Ford County also saw little damage, with only some power lines down, including one that was reported Monday morning in the Kempton and Cabery area; a couple of sheds blown over near Gibson City; and a large tree limb down in Sibley.
As of Monday morning, Doran said, there were three Ford County roads blocked off for one mile each due to power lines down, including 550 North and 100 East, between the Ford-McLean county line.