Almost four months ago, a tornado devastated the small town of Washington, Ill. Many people were stripped of their belongings and left to pick up the pieces of their lives from the wreckage they used to call home. To most of us this sounds like a terrifying dream, something you could never fathom living through. Kaitlyn Rose, a junior apparel merchandising major and Washington native, is one of the few people who can fully grasp the gravity of the situation. She shares the terror of living through a tornado and how she is dealing with the destruction left behind.
How did you and your family prepare for the storm?
I was home for the weekend and that morning we were saying, “Yeah, there’s supposed to be a tornado today,” just joking about it. Then all of the sudden the wind started picking up and my house started shaking. My grandpa is 92 and lives with us, so my brother and I carried him down the stairs and got all the animals in the basement. My dad and other brother were actually out during [the tornado]. It sounded like a freight train and it didn’t even hit my street. It was the scariest sound I’ve ever heard. My brother and I, after it was over, walked out of my house and looked up toward where a lot of the damage was. We saw fences blown over and didn’t think anything of it. Then a text came through and my best friend Kelsey said, “Kaitlyn, my house is gone, come help me.” We got in the car and drove maybe two blocks and when we got to the top of the hill everything was gone – the whole town.
How did you get to her through all the wreckage?
We had to get out and run two blocks because there was debris everywhere – debris, trees, power lines. It looked like a war zone. Kelsey and her family were just standing in their cul-de-sac, and they were all fine. I helped them get pictures out of their house and clothing that wasn’t damaged or had insulation in it. That’s pretty much all we could grab. All their cars were damaged, flipped, windows blown out.
So what happened to your dad and brother?
They were uptown at the auto parts place. They pulled up and got out, and there was a lady inside screaming at them to run. When they turned around, there was just this big black funnel in their face and debris everywhere, so they sprinted into the back of the store. The building next door was leveled and my dad went over there after it was over and pulled a couple of people out. My dad owns his own trucking company, so my brother ran over and got a semi and started loading people into it to take them to spots where there was medical personnel.
How did everyone deal with the looters that came to town afterward?
It was probably only three or four hours after the tornado hit that people had gotten word about it. Cops were driving through the streets on their megaphones announcing to everyone, “Leave town if you can, lock up your stuff, take as many belongings as you need, looters are coming.” There were people walking through the streets passing out shotguns to each other and trying to protect everybody. My dad parked his semi in front of our [house] and hooked up the generator so we had some electricity. We had all of our doors and windows boarded up and blocked off so nobody could get in. My brothers slept together, and we had all the animals in my grandpa’s room. My mom and I slept together, and my dad was outside the house. We each had a loaded gun just waiting for people to come in.
Did any looters end up coming to your house?
Not the looters, but a lot of fake contractors would come and try to inspect your house, even the undamaged ones. “Contractors” would come and try to check out our roof, see if our foundation was cracking, and my dad just told them to leave. Everyone’s trying to get so much money out of it.
Yeah, it is. They say it will take about two years to rebuild. I know a lot of people whose houses were leveled are getting their walls up and starting to build up again. Some people aren’t moving back and that makes me really sad.
Afterward, did you help the town clean?
We did everything we could. We volunteered multiple days, but it was hard because it was almost during finals week, so I had a lot of projects, but my teachers were really understanding and were letting me be home as much as I needed to be. We helped clean up the whole town. It was sad, because they would be like, “OK, you guys are volunteering on this street today at this time,” and I didn’t even know how to get to that street. I’ve lived in Washington my entire life, and I’ve never known anything else besides that town, and I couldn’t get anywhere.
Why did you guys choose to stay, instead of leaving after the policemen warned you about the looters?
My mom didn’t want to leave the house, and we couldn’t leave my grandpa. Washington is home, and we’re in this together, the whole entire community. If we need support, we have our neighbors to look to. Everyone was looking out for everyone else the entire time, and we still are.