WASHINGTON, Ill. (WMBD/WYZZ) — Ten years ago, an EF-4 tornado devastated the city of Washington. Buildings were destroyed and three people died as a result.
For those who experienced the tornado first-hand, such as Ella Bolam, it was harrowing.
“One thought that went through my mind as wood started breaking and the plaster started cracking was ‘There goes the house’. You’re pretty powerless, but there was a hand on my shoulder the entire time,” she said.
Joey Davidson and his family were just getting back from church, getting ready to watch the Chicago Bears game when the tornado struck.
He suffered some injuries due to the tornado, a broken shoulder, and a few broken ribs. His family’s house was destroyed, but thanks to community support, a brand new house was built.
Between neighbors, friends, and even his own children, they were able to build the new house within 8 months.
“If we had a piece of equipment that someone might need, like a lift or whatever, we’d just drive it over and let them use it, no charge,” Davidson said.
Even ten years later, Davidson says the event still has a way of uniting the people of Washington.
“We’ve got about 50 percent of our neighborhood that’s still living here after the storm and I’d say that it’s definitely brought everybody together still.”
A large part of the rebuilding process came from the high school football team, who advanced to the state semifinals that season.
Head coach Darrell Crouch is in his 19th and final season at the high school. The team was under a media spotlight, both local and national. He commended his players for dealing with that pressure.
“I really thought that our captains and older guys did a great job of representing our program here, but also representing our town,” Crouch said.
In addition to that heightened media attention, players and members of the coaching staff had to deal with not having basic life necessities, such as food and shelter. For Crouch, it made getting ready for games the easy part.
“The only normal thing in our lives for myself and the players was probably when we were at practice because there was no sense of normalcy once you got out of it,” he said.
Crouch also commended the towns and fellow football programs they played in the aftermath. He said they would provide food and other forms of support for Washington fans and players.
The city of Washington was helped by several organizations, including the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Davidson described the workers as “awesome”, but that the community helping each other is what made the rebuild process so successful.
“Washington Strong” is a phrase that has become synonymous with the city, but for Bolam, the rebuilding process showed that phrase in full effect.
“It made us stronger. It’s always been a wonderful community, a wonderful place to live, but that really solidified the community spirit,” she said.