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Diamond, Coal City look to rebuild two months after devastating tornadoes

DIAMOND – As an EF 2 tornado ripped through the Diamond Estates subdivision, Dawn Powell held tightly to her basement toilet, unsure if it would even remain connected to the floor.

The house violently shook as 135 mph winds spun hail and debris through the walls and into the home. Water from the heavy rainfall poured into Powell’s basement as she and her dog nervously waited out the storm.

“I was praying. I just kept praying out loud,” Powell said. “You’re thinking about things that you might have done wrong and you’re trying to make amends for things, and you’re just talking to yourself the whole time. You really think you’re going to die.”

Powell’s home was one of 229 Diamond and Coal City structures affected by the Nov. 17 tornadoes. The storm injured four people and will cost the city of Diamond “several hundred thousand” dollars when the cleanup is finally completed, according to Mayor Terry Kernc.

Beat the FEMA deadline

So far, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved $23,000 in aid to Will County residents, and FEMA has encouraged residents who haven’t applied to submit an application – and also apply for a Small Business Administration loan – before the Jan. 27 deadline.

“I can’t stress enough how important it is to apply for aid,” FEMA Spokesman Tim Tyson said. “We can’t help you if we don’t know who you are.”

Tyson said those turned down for an SBA loan could still be eligible for additional FEMA grants. Those approved for SBA loans do not have to use them immediately. Some homes that don’t show damage now could show it in the summer, he said.

“There could be cracks in your roof that you won’t see until it warms up,” Tyson said. “It’s when the seasons change after a disaster that other things show up.”

Statewide, FEMA has approved $2.3 million to people impacted by the dozens of tornadoes that tore through Illinois on Nov. 17, and the SBA has approved $12 million in disaster aid loans.

In Grundy County, 118 people registered for FEMA assistance, but no aid has been approved for those residents, Tyson said. That’s likely because the majority of those residents were adequately insured, Tyson said.

“We don’t use taxpayer money to fill in where people are insured,” he said.

The rebuild

Powell’s home is one property that did not need FEMA assistance because the insurance company provided an appropriate settlement, said Ken Powell, Dawn’s husband.

The Powell’s Laura Lane home suffered significant damage to the roof and garage. A grill in the backyard flew around the house and broke the glass on the front door. Barn wood from a farm down the street pierced the home’s walls, and pieces could still be found in an upstairs bedroom Thursday.

The home is set for demolition next week.

“The years of hard work we put into it, gone,” he said. “We did everything ourselves. We did the landscaping. We just repainted most of the upstairs. The carpet was in a month before the storm hit.

“That’s the hardest part. Yes, it will be all new, but it’s not my work. You take pride in what you do.”

‘It’s not like you walk in your living room and clean up’

Cleaning up Diamond began almost immediately after the tornadoes, as thousands of volunteers from throughout the region began clearing debris, Kernc said. High school students were allowed to skip class to clean yards. Local nuclear plants donated vests and gloves to all of the volunteers, and even prisoners from the Illinois Department of Corrections were brought to help clean up.

And just 10 days after the storm hit, organizations distributed $100,000 to tornado victims in the form of mini-grants, which were distributed in $2,000, $1,000 and $500 amounts based on the home’s level of damage. To date $239,000 has been collected in the tornado relief fund, with $39,000 still left in the account, Kernc said.

Kernc, whose Plainfield home was destroyed in the 1990 tornado, was uniquely qualified to handle such a disaster.

“I think more than anything I had empathy because I knew what you would be feeling the morning after,” she said. “The first day you’re in shock. You really don’t feel much of anything … It’s not like you walk in your living room and clean up.”

Three businesses from Coal City and 11 from Diamond also felt the impact from the November tornadoes. Chrome Rack Bar and Grill in Diamond lost the front two-thirds of its building from the storm.

“It was my whole life savings. Everything I had,” said owner Bill Mitchell, who is still waiting to see how much money he will get from an SBA loan. “I was there for two years and two months, and we were really just starting to pick up steam [before the storm].

“And this really just threw a wrench in the spokes.”

Moving on

More community fundraisers are planned for the area, which will add tens of thousands dollars more to the disaster fund, Kernc said. The village board will soon vote on the best way to spend the extra money, which may include dividing the money equally among the victims or giving different amounts based on each home’s level of damage.

The blue tarps, broken windows and blown out walls are still prevalent throughout the Diamond Estates subdivision. It will be months before Diamond and Coal City are back to pre-tornado condition, but the Powells understand the importance of moving on.

“You have to try to move forward,” Dawn Powell said. “You have to get yourself together. You have kids, I have a grandson and you’ve got to move forward with your life.”

More information
Deadline to apply for federal disaster assistance is Jan. 27.
Call 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or go online at to apply

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