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‘We survived’: Week after tornado, Fairdale community relief efforts continue

FAIRDALE – Downed traffic signs, pieces of insulation, mattresses and other household items remain strewn across the streets of Fairdale, a small community in northwest DeKalb County that was known to the few before it was ravaged by a tornado one week ago.

But with relief efforts underway and community determination to help restore the town, Fairdale is on the way to recovery. The numerous American flags flying over the disaster area were a testament to the community’s spirit.

Several officials and community members said the town has made a significant progress over the past seven days.

On Thursday, volunteer teams, officials and residents were cutting trees, clearing pieces of split wood and helping to keep one another spirits up.

Reminiscing about the tragedy, David Richardson said his mother was out playing bingo and he was sipping beer in his garage when the news on the radio said a tornado was passing between the 110- and 115-mile markers on Interstate 39.

“Every hair on my arms, my neck stood up, because I knew, it’s coming right at us,” he said. “And that’s when I ran down that driveway and I followed my neighbor, J.R., we ran down the street and we sat, watched it scream across the creek that’s right across, outside of town here. And as it crossed that creek.”

This week, Richardson said his mother is going to play bingo again.

“I hope she wins,” he said. “I told her last week, she goes, ‘I didn’t win the bingo either,’ and I was like, ‘Well yeah, you did,’ because if she had been home, she would have been sitting over there in that rubble, right there.”

Kyle Doyon, the incident commander for Team Rubicon that has been gathering assessments, work orders, said having spontaneous volunteers has helped his organizations to get done with the job quicker.

“Around here, every farmer has got a tractor and we have had a lineup where they have literally been turning away people,” he said. “Now, that we are out here managing the volunteers, we are accepting all that machinery and helping the community to rebuild, help each other out.”

Trudging through the street still littered with debris, Mike Hernandez, of Lake in the Hills, state operations coordinator for Team Rubicon brought a Saint Bernard, Minnie, to visit tornado survivors.

“I’ve just had her over at the volunteer center pretty much today, and it just helps the volunteers, it gets them happy right before they come out to see the zone that they have never seen before,” he said. “And then, when they come back, it’s just a relief, because they have seen such destruction and when you see the dog, you can’t just help but smile when you see her.”

The outpouring of support overwhelmed longtime Fairdale resident Tom Barone. But in small towns, where everybody knows everybody else, he said people help each other out.

“There’s been a lot of volunteers around,” he said. “Small town communities, you always hear about it, have people related to them. If they aren’t related, they went partying with them in their 20s, or 40s, 50s, so they know everybody.

“Life goes on. As long as you have got health, which some of the people don’t. Things can be replaced.”

A few blocks down the road, Leo Cardot was writing “We survived” on his van and drew his family of six and accompanied by two cats right below.

“Happy,” “sad,” “depressed,” “anxiety,” were some of the words Cardot used to describe his state of mind after he finished drawing.

“There’s lots and and lots of feeling running through,” he said. “One minute you are up, one minute you are down. And there’s a lot of people here to help you through all that and it’s great, so it makes it easier.”

And while his house is in shambles and he was still waiting for a decision from his insurance company, he said he was still feeling grateful and humbled.

“[I] just want to let everybody know that there’s a lot of us that’s survived and there’s two great people that were lost during this, but we all made it safely,” Cardot said.

For the past week, Franklin Township Supervisor Vincent Kilcullen said there has been significant progress. Crews were averaging 150 loads of debris that are being hauled out to the landfill.

The Illinois Department of Transportation also has been clearing Route 72 and several local townships have been providing assistance, he said.

“I’m incredibly thrilled with the progress we have made, it’s moving along a lot quicker than I anticipated it was going to go,” he said.

DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said Route 72 will remain closed as Fairdale remains a disaster area.

“That night, I was just about 100 feet down the road, couldn’t go any farther because electricity was down. It was devastating and it was obviously overwhelming, so sunshine today. [The] progress we have made is, I can’t really describe it, but it is a wonderful feeling despite the tragedy that still surrounds us.”

Scott said disaster relief teams and residents are making every effort to get the town back to normal.

“It may not be the exactly the same, but the folks who are determined to do that, I think will succeed. The configuration may be different, but the people’s determination will be the same.”