‘A devastating blow’
by Michele Longworth
Nov 20, 2013 | 3248 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Violent winds have damaged and destroyed the homes of many families in the Brookport and Unionville communities, but fellow neighbors, friends and people from the surrounding area are pitching in to help those victims of Sunday’s tornado to pick up the pieces of their lives.

In a press conference held Monday morning at the Interstate 24 welcome center, Brookport Mayor John Klaffer told media agencies it’s been tough. “It’s a devastating blow,” he said, pointing out it has been a tough 24 hours, but he and others are working as fast as they can to get the town in a more stable condition.

Klaffer expressed his appreciation to all of the agencies both in Illinois and from Kentucky, that have been providing mutual aid to the City of Brookport in the wake of the tornado.

Also speaking to local media outlets on Monday morning was Massac County Commission Chair Jayson Farmer, who said the county is supporting Brookport during its time of need and is utilizing all the county’s resources in Brookport and in the Unionville area. Farmer also expressed the county’s appreciation to Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), Ameren, Liberty Utilities, Verizon and Frontier as well as all of the emergency services personnel from Kentucky who responded so quickly to the situation on Sunday evening.

In addition to the outside response to the disaster, Farmer also said the commissioners are grateful to all of the county agencies - Massac ESDA officials, sheriff’s department, highway department, supervisor of assessments - for all of the many hours county employees have spent assisting with the disaster in Brookport and Unionville.

Massac County Sheriff Ted Holder initially told the media that there is a two-mile area in Unionville where 45 to 50 residences were either damaged or destroyed. As of Tuesday morning, the official numbers were released for the Unionville area by David Searby, Massac County’s information officer. Searby said there were a total of 48 homes that were affected. Specifically, there were four homes habitable with minor damage; 15 habitable with few repairs to make; nine not habitable due to damage; and 20 homes that were a total loss.

Area meteorologists warned days in advance that there was a moderate risk storms could be severe and produce a tornado. That was the case Sunday afternoon, as a super cell storm made its way from southeast Missouri into western Kentucky and eventually across the Ohio River into Brookport and Unionville, where both communities were struck by a tornado that left a trail of debris, three people dead and many injured.

Massac County is no stranger to tornados, as 10 years ago on May 6, 2003 western and northern portions of the county experienced a tornado. One of the more recent tornados in southern Illinois came when the tornado hit Harrisburg on Feb. 29, 2012, on Leap Day.

The tornado that struck Brookport and Unionville was a part of an unprecedented outbreak of tornados. Meteorologists with the National Weather Service say preliminary surveys show that at least 11 tornados touched down in Illinois, causing damage in Washington, Diamond, Gifford and New Minden, in addition to the communities in Massac County.

As a result of the tornado outbreak, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has issued a state disaster declaration for 13 Illinois counties: Champaign, Douglas, Grundy, Jasper, LaSalle, Massac, Pope, Tazewell, Washington, Woodford, Wabash, Wayne and Will counties.

Monday morning Illinois State Police (ISP) Trooper Joey Watson, public information officer, said there were three confirmed fatalities from the tornado - one death inside of Brookport City limits and two deaths within Massac County. Those people confirmed dead include: Kathy George, 58; Robert Harmon, 56; and Scholitta Burrus, 63, who was reported to have died at Baptist Health of Paducah, due to blunt force trauma. As of the Tuesday morning press conference, there had been no change to the number of fatalities.

Searby reported as of 2 a.m. on Monday morning, anyone that was missing had been accounted for. He said the search and rescue portion of the recovery process was completed and moving toward the clean up process. He also explained that IEMA damage assessment teams would be in Massac County assessing the levels of damage sustained from the tornado.

While there were reports early from media outlets Monday morning requesting volunteer help, Searby stressed that it is important for the damage to remain in place while IEMA officials and National Weather Service assessment teams are surveying the damage to properties. He said once the damage assessment teams have conducted their investigation the efforts can be focused on debris removal and the development of a debris management plan. Searby said Monday afternoon that anyone wanting to volunteer to help with the clean up efforts would first have to be registered.

According to Searby, individuals who have been affected by the tornado may call Brookport City Hall at 618-564-2352 in order to register. Searby said the Massac County Ministerial Alliance is also working with emergency personnel by providing mobile registration to the storm victims in Unionville.

According to Rick Shanklin of the National Weather Service (NWS) in Paducah, three teams were out surveying damage on Monday to access the intensity of the tornado that moved through southern Illinois and western Kentucky. Shanklin said the first tornado warning for Massac County was issued at 1:52 p.m.

Shanklin said there are three major tracks the NWS would be looking at. The first one being the one that moved from southeast Missouri to Greenville, Ky., one track to the north of Cape Girardeau and another track north of Interstate 64, in addition to other sub tracks.

During the afternoon press conference, Shanklin said the teams had finished with the damage assessment in southern Illinois.

He said from the damage that was seen in Brookport, the intensity of the tornado showed signs of and EF 1 and EF 2 tornadoes and even some damage that would represent the low end of an EF 3 tornado. He went on to explain the tornado path looked to be about 250 yards wide. At the afternoon press conference Shanklin updated that by saying that there is an area near Kickasola Road where the path of the tornado appears to be about one-third of a mile wide. Shanklin said from the damage teams were seeing, it looked as though there may have been winds that may have reached up to 145 miles per hour.

Brookport Police Chief John Barr said on Monday that following the tornado Sunday evening, a curfew was enacted and remained in effect on Monday from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. and as of Tuesday morning,

Illinois State Trooper Mike Usher said the curfew would still be in effect and would be evaluated on a day-to-day basis as to whether the curfew would be in place.

Usher also said the Unionville area remains closed and advised ISP troopers would still be manning the check point locations going into Brookport.

Barr also said on Monday the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet would be inspecting the Brookport Bridge to determine if the bridge is safe to be reopened.

According to Barr, there was some guard railing on the bridge that was loosened from the tornado. Usher said during the Tuesday morning conference vehicles from Brookport were being allowed to cross over the bridge into Kentucky. However, vehicles were not being permitted to cross back over the bridge into Brookport.

During the afternoon press conference, Tina Hale of Ameren Illinois reported that most all of Brookport’s power had been restored except for a few residences near Brookport Dam 52, where the electric company was having to wait on some special equipment to set two poles. Hale updated that information on Tuesday morning by reporting that all of the Brookport residents now have power.

Deon Scott of Liberty Utilities emphasized on Monday that safety is their number one concern and said that gas service was never disrupted, except for those homes which were damaged. He said those lines — about 25 that were affected — have all been discontinued.

Tuesday morning Chris Bennett of Southeastern Illinois Electric Co-op in Dongola was on hand and reported that following the tornado, there were 500 of their customers left without power. On Monday there were 175 still left without power but as of Tuesday morning, the number was at 28 and those were due to problems on the customer’s end.

Searby said that some items that are still needed are basic needs toiletry items in addition to cleaning supplies. Another needed item mentioned on Tuesday morning was the need for plastic containers with lids that storm victims may use when they go back to their homes to collect those personal items that are salvageable.

U.S. Congressman John Shimkus spoke to the crowd on Monday morning saying he is appreciative of the first responders who have been on site in Massac County to help. Shimkus spoke about outpouring of generosity that has been shown after the tornado struck. “Rural people help their neighbors,” he said.
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