IL town unites amid devastation

Even with a federal disaster declaration, Utica will face a long-term recovery.

BY SUSAN KIM | UTICA, Ill. | April 23, 2004

Even with a federal disaster declaration, the town of Utica will be facing a long-term recovery.

On Friday, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked the federal government to declare five counties a disaster area, and relief efforts continued as church groups and national disaster response groups reached out to survivors of the F3 tornado that hit Tuesday night. An F3 tornado carries wind speeds of 158 to 206 miles per hour.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency reported about 80 percent of the downtown is badly damaged.

Tornadoes killed eight people in Utica, home to less than 1,000 people, in the north-central part of the state.

The victims died when a century-old tavern collapsed. The building's foundation was made of sandstone, which crumbles easily. Several of the dead had fled their homes in a trailer park to seek protection in the tavern. Dozens of other buildings in a four-block downtown area collapsed as well.

Utica is some 90 miles southeast of Chicago.

Church World Service (CWS) Disaster Response and Recovery Liaisons were in contact with local clergy as damages were still being assessed.

Lutheran Disaster Response, working with Lutheran Child and Family Services (LCFS) of Illinois and Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, was in contact with local congregations to assess damages. LCFS has been asked by the American Red Cross to provide a mental health worker.There is a preschool ten miles away from Utica, and LCFS is preparing to provide defusing and debriefing for the children through a counselor.

The Waltham Presbyterian Church will be acting as the temporary school for a local elementary school that was damaged by the tornado. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance was in contact with local pastors to help determine short- and long-term needs.

At least three dozen homes were destroyed in Granville, Ill., and 30 more homes had major damage. A school there was also damaged, said Bunny Wolfe, director of missions and outreach for the Great Rivers/Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church. Wolfe has been in close contact with CWS representatives and with the United Methodist Committee on Relief since early Tuesday morning.

The Salvation Army in partnership with Home Depot was also responding.

Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska and Oklahoma also reported storm damage, some of it caused by tornadoes.

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