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Tornado's aftermath: Illinois city is stunned … and roused to action

The swath of destruction from the powerful tornado that hit Harrisburg in southern Illinois was quiet Thursday as homeowners looked through debris and mourned. But elsewhere the city buzzed with activity. 

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“Everyone is upset but we have no place for [the volunteers] to go,” says Lt. Tracy Felty with the Saline County Sheriff Office.

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The primary damage site, a bedroom community of ranch homes and two-story apartments, was eerily quiet Thursday afternoon as residents assessed what was left, talked with insurance agencies, and mourned.

Tall oak trees looked like they were festooned with Christmas lights, except their branches held orange, pink, and yellow ribbons of home insulation. Cars were flattened in what were once the garages that held them. All that remained of the home of Jaylynn Ferrell, a 22-year-old nurse who was flung 100 yards up a hill where she died, was a foundation holding a shoe, a Santa doll, and a dresser drawer in its belly.

Kera Wise says she drove in from her home seven miles to the south to hunt through the debris of her aunt and uncle’s home, which sat, crushed, atop the home across the street. The plush red recliner, in which her uncle was sleeping, was tucked under planks. Her aunt, she says, is stable, but her uncle remains unresponsive in the hospital.

Ms. Wise hunted on their behalf for mementos, photos and “hopefully a missing dog we’ll find alive.”

Also flattened were a nearby strip mall and the south end of the city’s medical building, which had to evacuate patients and transfer them to other counties.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn surveyed the damage Wednesday after directing the state’s Emergency Management Agency to activate recovery operations among several state agencies. On Thursday John Shimkus, a member of Congress from Illinois, followed the same ground, noting the people he met were “resilient.”

“They don’t appear to be wanting other than to recover their assets and move forward,” Representative Shimkus says.

Even though a tree rested on his home and another atop his car, Levi Fogle strummed an acoustic guitar on his front porch. He stopped to shake it to demonstrate how the tornado refashioned it as a percussive instrument: inside is crushed glass.

Mr. Fogle and Sarah Pearce, his wife, were able to rescue their two toddlers despite the massive tree threatening to push through the roof. “God held my house. There is no doubt about that,” Ms. Pearce says.

Despite forecasts that another storm almost as severe as Wednesday’s may sweep through the area on Friday, Pearce says the next 24 hours are far from her mind.

“I’m trying not to think about that right now,” she says. “What more is it going to do?”

IN PICTURES: Extreme weather 2012

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