GIBSON CITY — Throughout Gibson City, there are piles. Piles of material goods. Piles of household items. Piles of people’s lives.

They stand as testimony of the deluge of water that hit this city last week, damaging countless homes and businesses.

On Monday, Three public works dump trucks were hauling material from the mounds to the northeast part of town, where they will be loaded on a semitrailer and taken to a landfill.

Life might be returning to normal for some people in Gibson City, but not for many.

The community is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

On Thursday, it had a 100-year rain. Or at least residents hope it’s that long before such a downpour happens again.

While volunteers are providing a great deal of help, one question is whether government assistance might be forthcoming since many insurance companies aren’t coming through.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Monday requested that the U.S. Small Business Administration conduct a joint preliminary damage assessment in Ford County (the village of Elliott was also affected), working with local and state emergency managers to review and verify damages associated with the storm.

The assessment is a step in the state’s efforts to seek federal disaster assistance.

Also, the Ford County Board will meet in emergency session at 3:30 p.m. today to discuss and approve a resolution declaring a local disaster.

Chair Deb Smith said she understands the state can declare before the county does. But if the county declares, there is help residents can access from state and federal sources.

“For the people who don’t have flood insurance, there will be help getting low-interest loans to help purchase things they need that were lost because of the flooding,” Smith said.

Jarrett Brown, leader of a task force with Team Rubicon, an organization that responds to disasters of this nature, said his team of 10 volunteers would start assessing the community today and probably start helping with cleanup the following day with an eye toward being in Gibson City for about two weeks. More volunteers will arrive later.

Team Rubicon is composed primarily of military veteran volunteers that work “with our counterparts in counties ... and see if there is an unmet need like doing the muck outs” of homes and businesses. They respond to emergencies worldwide. Another team on Monday headed to Haiti to help following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that killed hundreds.

“Once the water recedes, that’s the big ticket. We try to get boots on the ground as quick as possible. Sometimes, it takes three to four days,” Brown said.

That won’t be a problem in Gibson City. Most of the water was gone the following day.

He said a major part of remediation is removing drywall and wet insulation from basements.

“Insulation will soak up water well past the water line,” he said.

A foot or more above that point needs to be removed, Brown said, adding: “It can cause some problems with health and the physical structure of the house.”

“It’s fulfilling work. I love it. I can’t think of myself doing anything different,” said Brown, who served in the U.S. Army military police for five years and finds the volunteer worked helped to fill a void that was missing after he left the military.

The Gibson City firehouse will serve as the emergency operations center.

‘It’s been crazy’While many are helping people clean up, others are providing additional needs.

Displaced people who stayed the first three nights at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley Middle School are now staying at Gibson City Bible Church, which is also the location where many donated items are being brought and may be collected. The governor’s office said nearly 50 displaced people have been helped by Red Cross at the shelters.

“Quite honestly, it’s been crazy. I thought Friday was crazy, but we’re ramping up,” administrative assistant Bonnie Arends said. “A lot of people are being helped in small ways, and some in bigger ways.”

Arends has also been referring people who have needs to where they can get help.

The Red Cross and Salvation Army have stepped up, the latter providing food and snacks for those displaced, and the Red Cross helping meet other needs.

Red Cross officials said between four and 20 displaced individuals would be staying at the church. The Red Cross’ goal is to find permanent placements for those who have no home. Many prefer to stay in Gibson City, but options are limited because numerous places are flood-damaged.

The church has also been where individuals and companies can drop off donations, which is a separate operation on behalf of the city of Gibson.

A semitrailer full of bottled water arrived Friday.

‘What can we bring?’Other donated items have included bleach, mops, 5-gallon buckets with cleaning supplies provided by area Lutheran and United Methodist churches, box fans, shovels and squeegees from Menards in Normal.

“Individuals and out-of-town churches and businesses are asking, ‘What can we bring?’ and showing up with what we requested,” Arends said.

Residents interested in donating items may drop them off from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the church. The only items being accepted are leaf rakes, flat shovels and fans. Items that may be picked up at the church during that time include 5-gallon buckets of cleaning supplies, bleach, empty 5-gallon buckets, trash bags, shovels, rakes, brooms, health kits (towels and toiletry items) and bottled water.

Volunteers within Gibson City Bible are also working in conjunction with the city to help.

“We’re also starting to get calls of, ‘I have this furniture I’m willing to give,’” Arends said.

The Bank of Gibson City is accepting financial donations for victims. Community meals will also be available at noon and 4 p.m. at the Gibson City American Legion post, 203 N. Sangamon Ave.

‘Sense of normalcy’Classes are due to resume next week at GCMS, and Superintendent Jeremy Darnell said the district will be doing everything in its power to start on time.

“We believe students need that sense of normalcy in moving back into good and positive things, and we’re excited,” Darnell said.

He said the flooding caused minimal damage to school buildings that has been repaired.

Darnell was on hand all three nights when displaced residents were housed at GCMS Middle School. He said Ford County Health Department Director Lana Sample and Dr. Bernadette Ray were also present. He said many of the displaced “had significant health needs.”

“I was amazingly impressed by the thankfulness and the kindness of those folks in this dire time,” Darnell said. “They were appreciative of all things provided to them.”

Darnell said Sunday night was the first time he and his family had time to drive around Gibson City.

“We saw piles and piles of people’s stuff,” he said. “There’s a story behind every piece of that.”

News-Gazette correspondent Carol Thilmony contributed to this story.

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Our County Editor

Dave Hinton is editor of The News-Gazette's Our County section and former editor of the Rantoul Press. He can be reached at

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