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home : news : national news free January 16, 2019

12/1/2018 9:18:00 PM
Devastating tornado hits Taylorville
Owen Lasswell
Breeze-Courier Writer

UPDATE — Sunday, December 2, 5:31 p.m.

Disaster recovery efforts have been ongoing all day on Sunday. Officials say considerable progress has been made, but the damage was extensive. More than 300 total structures were assessed. According to Joe Gasparich, assistant emergency management director of Montgomery County, fifty-three of those showed major damage, 29  were destroyed, and 219 were damaged but inhabitable

The National Weather Service has not yet commented on the classification of the wind speed of the storm that caused that destruction.

“By the end of the night, I don’t’ think those numbers are going to change too much, or at all.” Christian County Emergency Management Director Mike Crews said.

Crews initially stated that he thought a federal or state disaster proclamation was unlikely, which would make securing disaster relief funds difficult. He softened his stance on that a little at the 4:00 p.m. press conference. “There is new legislation we’re aware of. We were really concerned about the per capita numbers; we may be looking more at the disaster impact. I spoke with the IEMA (Illinois Emergency Management Agency) director briefly before I came over...we’ll review the numbers, double check the numbers, then we’ll send those numbers electronically up to IEMA. They, in turn, will mesh the per capita versus what the actual impact is. We’ll be making a narrative to IEMA; we’re going to plead our case and kind of tell them how we’ve been affected. Of course, we have businesses, residences, infrastructure, and basically paint a poor picture of how we’re suffering...I guess there may be a chance that we may have some state funding, and that’s a big if.”

Reports of injuries have not increased since early estimates that pegged the number at less than 30. City officials did state, however, that two people were transported to intensive care units as a result of the storm. One of those individuals was a male that suffered a cardiac episode during the clean up process and not during the storm. According to Crews, he was successfully resuscitated by Taylorville Fire Department personnel. Officials, however, were uncertain about the exact condition of those two individuals.

The City of Taylorville and Ameren are also still dealing with extensive power outages. “We’ve got about 1,081 customers that are currently without power in Christian County,” said Ameren representative Tucker Kennedy. “We do expect to have all but about 300 of our customers restored by midnight. Again, we had about 110 poles down...we’re making significant progress in putting those back up, but it does take time.”

“Customers who have damage to what we call their weather head -which is the facility that is right outside their home where the piping comes down with the wire in it - if they have that damaged, they have to get that repaired by a qualified electrician before we can turn that power back on.”

Taylorville will implement a 9:00 p.m. curfew for the affected areas, which includes neighborhoods west of Shumway Street, East of Houston, south of Park or Spreser Street, and all the way to Illinois Route 48.

“Law enforcement will be out in that area. We will be enforcing the curfew. In all practicality, we will be issuing a warning at first unless somebody refuses to, and then we could issue an arrest,” Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp said.

“If people need to get out, that’s obvious.” Taylorville Police Chief Brian Hile said of the curfew. “This is just to minimize the traffic  and try to prevent people from being in the areas that don’t need to be there. If somebody is there and needs to go or has to get out, obviously they would be able to come and go.”

The curfew will be lifted at 6:00 a.m.

Taylorville Mayor Bruce Barry has also announced a burning ban for all affected areas; that includes leaves and storm debris. “With the wind, the last thing we want is to start a fire,” Barry said while noting that law enforcement will be on the lookout for any illegal burning.

The city is asking home owners to try and separate woody material and tree limbs from home debris as there are two different entities responsible for picking up each respective debris type.

City officials say that volunteer efforts have been a critical component in the speed of Sunday’s recovery effort. “In large part, this response, much of it, a great part of it, is strictly volunteers...From that, look at the immense gain we’ve made today. It’s because people are engaging, and strangers are helping’s really amazing to see,” Crews said.

Crews did say that the city has currently had to turn away volunteers. Currently, there is no dedicated avenue for volunteers to contribute, but he says the city is evaluating the needs of the residents right now and that a proper channel for volunteerism will be created an announced. “Just sit tight,” he said to those wishing to lend a helping hand.
See Monday’s edition of the Breeze-Courier for additional coverage on Saturday’s storm.

UPDATE — Sunday, December 2, 9:26 a.m.

Damage in the Hewittville area, along Prairie Street, and near South School, is devastating. Christian County Emergency Management Director Mike Crews says the injury total has remained at approximately 30 people. Fortunately, no fatalities have been reported.

Christian County 911 Director Mickie Earhardt says that dispatchers handled 309 incoming 911 calls between approximately 4:30 p.m. and midnight Saturday. They dispatched 175 of those calls.

Damage assessments are ongoing. Crews sad he hopes to have the total number of homes affected by approximately 4:00 p.m. today.

While damage is extensive in many neighborhoods, especially the Hewittville area, Crews says he does not believe the damage will be enough to qualify for federal disaster reimbursement funds.

Pictures are available on the Breeze-Courier Facebook page.

 UPDATE — Saturday, Dec. 1, 11:55 p.m.

Emergency services personnel are now reported that 30 patients have been transported to Taylorville Memorial Hospital with injuries resulting from Saturday’s devastating storm. Fortunately, no fatalities have been reported.

In an updated press release from the City of Taylorville, officials are asking residents to monitor for downed power lines and gas leaks. “If they suspect a gas leak, they should contact Christian County 911, and they should not try to correct or mitigate the hazard on their own,” it reads. “Residents should not attempt to clear debris as there may be downed power lines in the debris.”

The city also stated that residents will be given information on what to do with their debris in a later press briefing. “Citizens are not encouraged to be removing debris until all utilities have been secured,” the release continues.

Contact numbers for the Red Cross were also made available. Volunteers who wish to contribute to the recovery are urged to contact the Red Cross at 661-992-6031. They will begin accepting volunteers at 8:00 a.m. Sunday morning at the Christian County Fairgrounds.

Any family member needing to make contact with someone affected by the storm is urged to call the Red Cross reunification number at 844-319-6560.

Any resident in need of shelter can go to the Crossroads Apostolic Church at 212 Jaycee Drive in Taylorville.

Christian County Emergency Management Director Mike Crews says progress has been steady in the early hours of the recovery. “We believe that we’re transitioning from a life-safety incident into an incident-stabilization incident,” he said. “We’re going to start doing damage assessment at 7:00 in the morning. We’re going to have our local team team up with the emergency management team, and we’ll get a strong number on what homes are affected, damaged, and destroyed. We’ll get some idea what our infrastructure losses have been.”

“We’re finishing up searching the areas that were heavily damaged...I know we had probably 12 or 15 houses, at least, where people were trapped,” Goodall commented of the work already done.

Sheriff Kettelkamp warned that he has received a few reports of looting. He assured that police personnel are working to combat that issue as well.

Route 48 was still closed as of approximately 11:15, but the Illinois State police said they were hoping to have the highway opened by approximately midnight.

According to Joe Gasparich, assistant emergency management director of Montgomery County, Ameren has estimated that 2,500 people in Christian County are without power. Approximately 1,270 residents in Taylorville are without power. He said they are bringing crews in to replace what he says is approximately 20 poles that were damaged.

Gasparich also reported a potential hazardous situation that is developing at Willey’s Station. He did not offer any additional details other than to say a HAZMAT team was responding to investigate.




TAYLORVILLE — Saturday evening was supposed to be a festive occasion, a  kickoff to the Christmas season as Taylorville was set to host its annual Twilight Christmas Parade.

Instead, it was marred by one of the worst storms Taylorville has ever seen.

“We were following a storm track that came into the county a few hours ago...We believe that the bulk of the damage for Christina County has occurred in Taylorville,” Christian County Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Crews said.

What transpired was a massive storm that left a trail of twisted wreckage and destruction. “We took the unprecedented step of activating our sirens twice,” Crews said of his initial concern for the storm. “We have a policy not to do that, but we felt that because of the size of the storm, we did do that. The storm sirens in our town were activated right when the storm was at the cusp of our county.”

Those sirens may have sounded the alarm, but the damage is still immense.

“I was out in the field. I was on the south side where the storm went through...there is multiple, I would guess, over a hundred, easily, that are damaged severely from the storm because it took a path almost right through town,” Taylorville Assistant Fire Chief Andy Goodall said of the damage to Taylorville homes. “Most of those houses, roofs are gone, significant damage, including my own. That’s one of the things we gotta manage, and that’s what this team is doing. We’re going to get this all put together and try to get everybody back whole as soon as we can.”

Downed power lines are strewn across city streets, so, too, are fallen limbs and home wreckage. Additionally, Crews stated that some railroad crossing gates are currently inoperable. “We just received a call from the railroads. We’re aware that the train signals are down as well...we’ve asked Norfolk Southern to halt their trains in the short, obviously, we don’t want anyone crossing the tracks at this point,’ he said.

“We’ve got damaged houses out in the county, several have been reported to us,” Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp added. He also noted that he was aware of at least one home that he says was totaled in the Hewittville area.

Crews and emergency responders say no fatalities have yet been reported as a result of the storm, but there have been many injuries. “We had several injuries; I can’t comment on the number of injuries at this time. To our knowledge there were no fatalities. We did have several individuals who were trapped in their homes initially,” he pointed out.

In a press release issued by the city, it states that approximately 15 residents have been transported for medical treatment. “That’s a ballpark figure from the 911 director,” said Joe Gasparich, assistant emergency management director of Montgomery County. That estimate was as of approximately 7:45 p.m.

The protocol for the next several hours is still search and rescue.  “Soon, we’re going to be getting all the resources from the fire side and police and sending task force out to do search and rescue,” Crews said, while Gasparich added that that process would include a home-by-home search.

Once search and rescue efforts are completed, Crews says responders will move to damage assessment.  “When the morning comes along, we’re going to be getting a damage assessment team from Christian County...At some point, I suspect that we’ll be reaching out to the governor and potentially asking for a (disaster) declaration of some kind for this,” he said. “We have a team of about 20 volunteers that will be doing damage assessment for us. They’re trained to do that; they’ll go through, they’ll assign the damage to that, and we’ve encouraged all the superintendents to start tracking their costs if we are able to capture a disaster declaration with this thing.”

In the meantime, Crews says responders are also working on establishing a hotline that absentee family members can call to try to contact Taylorville residents that are otherwise unreachable.  It will be staffed by the Red Cross he says. “We’re going to try to get a number set up with Red Cross; they’re on site right now.” Crews commented.  That number was not yet available as of approximately 8:30 p.m. Saturday night. “Red Cross will be managing our shelters too. We haven’t received any sheltering needs yet; I suspect we probably will as the night goes on. Typically, they’re actually at the fire station,” Crews continued.

Crews said that the most important thing that residents can do right now is clear the roadways for emergency personnel. “Right now, we’re working a variety of issues. We have, obviously, a significant debris issues. We also have, quite honestly, a lot of people that are out inhibiting us from getting to where they need to be. In fact, our crews right now are working a structural fire...We’re encouraging people, strongly, to stay off the streets.”

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