Cleanup Continues Across Midwest After Devastating Tornadoes

Nov 19, 2013
Originally published on November 19, 2013 5:31 pm

Dozens of tornadoes struck the Midwest on Sunday, leaving hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed. Now starts the long cleanup process, as families sift through the debris of what used to be their homes.

The American Red Cross and other aid groups are moving in, to provide shelters for displaced residents. NPR’s David Schaper joins Here & Now’s Robin Young with details.


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Meteorologists are now reporting that at least 14 tornadoes struck the Midwest on Sunday, leaving hundreds of homes damaged or destroyed, killing at least eight. And now starts the long cleanup, and the search for beloved items. We'll have more on that in a moment. But in Brookport, Illinois, Sheriff's Deputy Chad Keller(ph) described a terrible scene.

CHAD KELLER: A good portion, about a half mile of (unintelligible) road, all the houses and trailers are completely flattened, power lines down, cars everywhere, propane tanks turned over, the propane leaking out. And the area on (unintelligible) road, just - it was strange because two trailers right across the road from each other, completely gone, but the houses on both sides were just barely touched. Just devastation.

YOUNG: NPR's David Schaper is in Washington, Illinois, another town just devastated. And, David, what are you seeing?

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, I'm in the midst of a gigantic debris hill. It's just you can see that there were homes here, that there's some partial wall. We're looking one of the, you know, brick house that still got somewhat four walls, but the roof is gone and everything else is gone. And all the homes around it are just shredded. It's just piles of debris, of wood splintered up and trees torn apart, and you can't see what was a tree and what was a two-by-four.

It's just, you know, there's furniture and plumbing and everything just kind of thrown in between. A lawnmower sticking upside down out of a debris pile I'm standing next to right now. Everything is just shredded and tossed around and, you know, I covered a few of these, Robin, over the years and, every time, I'm just astounded by the power and the fury of a tornado. And it's just incredible.

YOUNG: Well, these, in particular, you know, people are saying, even those who have lived through tornadoes, this one packed an incredible punch. And it's winter. Not the best time for rebuilding. So what's the plan?

SCHAPER: Yeah. Winter's on the way. It's a nice, bright sunny day today. The temperatures are only in the 40s. And this is not construction season. So it's going to be difficult. There's a lot, I mean, we're talking - just in Washington alone, at least 500 homes severely damaged and destroyed. And beyond that, throughout Illinois and other parts of the Midwest, you know, add to that these thousands of people who are going to need longer term housing, not just temporary housing that you can get in a shelter or in a gymnasium with a cot and that sort of thing. And maybe, too long to impose on friends and relatives.

YOUNG: Yeah.

SCHAPER: So it's going to be a really difficult situation, especially a community this size. It's a community of about 15,000 people. Not tiny, but not big. And there's not surplus available housing to put people. So it's going to be a difficult situation in a long time before, you know, at least spring, before people can break ground and start rebuilding.

YOUNG: Well, just very, very briefly. They think of all the things they have to think of. You can't go too far away. Kids need to go to school.

SCHAPER: Yeah. Schools here in this town are closed. And, you know, if you're moving outside of the district, then you got to find a new school. And the schools here were not damaged, so the kids could return them. You know, that's an added logistical headache for the parent...

YOUNG: Yeah, because of where they live.

SCHAPER: the middle of the school year.

YOUNG: Yeah. So much to think about in Illinois. NPR's David Schaper there in Washington, Illinois. Thanks so much.

SCHAPER: You're welcome, Robin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.