Washington tornado, one year later: City stands strong

Marlo Guetersloh
Above: Rebuilding along Gillman Avenue continues. Contractors line the road with their trucks and equipment last week. More than 100 houses that were leveled by the Nov. 17, 2013, tornado have been issued occupancy permits.

In a matter of a few agonizing moments, more than 1,000 homes were leveled or severely damaged on Nov. 17, 2013.

Three people died and more than 1,000 Washington families were displaced when the EF-4 tornado cut a path through the city. 

While Illinois is no stranger to tornadoes, the weather event was unusual. 

“You look at the strength at the tornado that moved through Washington, those are pretty rare,” said Chris Miller, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Lincoln. “A lot of our records, (dating) back from the 1950s, there have only been 30 tornadoes

of that magnitude or stronger.”

Not only did those few minutes change everything for those Washington residents affected directly by the tornado, but it has changed things for the entire community. 

As Washington -— the city and the community -— rebuilds, community leaders say they are determined to ensure that the city becomes a better, stronger, more vibrant community than it was the day before the tornado hit. 

From the beginning of the disaster, Mayor Gary Manier said Washington was going to come back stronger than before. 

“Washington Strong” has become a theme for that determination that seems to be shared by community leaders and residents. 

More than 160 occupancy permits have been issued for the 433 leveled houses that have been rebuilt in the first full construction season after the tornado. 

Washington was one of the fastest growing cities in central Illinois before the tornado. More than 1,500 homes were built in the decade before the tornado — all part of the growth that helped Washington nearly double its population in a matter of a dozen years. 

“We will continue to grow,” said City Administrator Tim Gleason. “We will not let the tornado stop us. It may have slowed us down for a year or so, but we must and we will find a way to keep growing while we recover and for years to come.”

—TimesNewspaper reporter Drew Veskauf contributed to this story.