Finding Hope in Fairdale

Jonah Thompson

Fairdale, Illinois is an unincorporated community of approximately 200 residents. Army veteran Josh Walker recounts meeting a lifelong resident in the wake of an EF-4 tornado.

Team Rubicon is well-prepared to handle the stresses and uncertainty disasters bring. When we deploy on relief operations, we bring not only tools and experience but also hope and motivation.

I deployed to Operation: Barbed Wire as a photographer to not only get dirty in the field but also document the work being accomplished by so many selfless volunteers. I had the unique opportunity to focus on looking at the entire situation from more of a bird’s-eye view, rather than one specific task at a time.

While walking by one foundation where a home once stood, a man called out to me. He was perched on the edge of the foundation and asked me to take his picture. I obliged and snapped a couple frames. I then went up and introduced myself and he did the same. His name was David Richardson, and he had lived in Fairdale, IL his entire life. He proceeded to tell me more, and I could tell he just wanted to share his story with someone.


Before an EF-4 tornado tore through Northern Illinois on April 9, David had lived in Fairdale, IL his entire life.

The foundation David was standing on was owned by his next door neighbor. David had been in his garage listening to the radio when the local station announced an approaching tornado. Hearing the street names and knowing it was headed directly for his town, he immediately ran south and checked on another friend who lived just down the street. He then ran back north past his house and checked on another friend to make sure they were safe. In a town of less than 200 people, everyone knew each other, and David likely would have ran door-to-door had he been given enough time. When he turned around, he saw the EF-4 tornado shredding the southwest corner of Fairdale and quickly approaching his house.

Instead of going home, he ran into his next door neighbor’s house who lived there with her two children. Without enough time to get in the basement, they all ran into the bathroom. The tornado started to pass right over the house, and it toppled the house on its side, sending David and everyone inside tumbling from the floor to the walls and then to the ceiling before flattening the structure. They were pinned down by one of the walls and unable to move. David’s eyeglasses were sucked from his face, and then his entire body started to be pulled from underneath the wall. He thought he was going to die.

All of a sudden, the wall was sucked from on top of them and flew away, leaving them wet, terrified, and with broken ribs and other injuries. They spent the next hour walking around the town trying to help others. It was then that David discovered his aunt, who lived just down the street as well, had not survived the tornado.


More than 75 volunteers deployed on Operation: Barbed Wire to support homeowners in Fairdale.

In a town the size of just a few square blocks, the tornado could easily have gone around them and just given them a scare. Instead, this community is forever changed, both physically and emotionally.

On Team Rubicon deployments, we work in the aftermath of these disasters. We always say we can’t imagine what it’s like to lose everything after a disaster or to have to rely on memory for our childhood photographs. When you’re standing in the middle of the aftermath, it’s easy to ponder these situations. Less often do we consider the fear and shear terror they experience during the actual disaster. Each one of these people experienced an intense and terrifying few minutes where they thought they would not live to see another day.

I believe this is why we come across victims on deployments who are jumping in to help, being cheerful, getting their hands dirty, and not sitting by waiting for others to help them. They know full well the alternative they were so close to being dealt and are simply thankful to survive.

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