WALNUT — While on a recent trip to Springfield, a conversation sparked between Don and Sandra Watson about the tornado disaster that struck Washington, Ill., on Nov. 17.
That conversation inspired the Walnut couple to get on the phone and find out how they could help with the devastating aftermath.
After several calls, it was brought to their attention there was a need to help with the clean-up of the several torn away homes.
So the Watsons spread the word, collected about $2,000 to donate to the community of Washington and were able to gather 44 volunteers from all parts of Bureau County, who were willing to spare a day and manpower for the community of Washington.
Doug Hansen, owner of Green River Lines charter bus company in Peru, found out about the trip and donated a bus to help transport the volunteers on site.
The volunteers took off last week, and spent an entire workday on site.
“The people who went with us were hard workers and so positive,” Don said. “We had older folks, middle aged people and even some young volunteers. You had to be 18 years old to go.”
When the bus arrived at the location, it was immediately met by security, who was there to confirm the bus wasn’t just taking a tour through the destruction.
According to Don, there is high security in the area that keeps “gawkers” and “looters” from driving into the rumble.
After being directed to a site, the volunteers were split into two groups and were assigned to tear down the walls of a home and sort rumble.
The sight of the amount of destruction left several volunteers speechless.
“The sight is just unbelievable,” Don said. “We didn’t even come close to making a dent. The tornado tore houses down for about two and half miles. There’s just lumber laying everywhere as far as you can see.”
One of the volunteer members on the charter bus was Kent Hildebrand of Princeton, who was shocked by what he faced in Washington.
Among the sites he saw cars mutilated and mangled, bark that had just been torn away from tree trunks and the very few limbs remaining on the trees.
“The amount of destruction was overwhelming. It’s hard to imagine a wind could do that much damage,” he said. “For as far as I could see, I didn’t see any building standing. Everything was gone.”
As Hildebrand explained the reason why he decided to help out with the clean-up, he brought up the time when he was 7 years old and his family endured a tornado.
“I remember people and neighbors came and helped put things together and clean-up, and I guess that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to help in Washington,” he said.
Talking about the destruction left behind in Washington brings back memories of being in a tornado for Hildebrand.
“I heard it go over. When they say it sounds like trains, they are right,” he said. “When you see the destruction in Washington, you’re amazed more people didn’t lose their lives.”
When the volunteers returned home, they were met with a free hot meal donated by The Walnut Cafe.
Comment on this story at www.bcrnews.com.