Diamond holds meeting to discuss next steps for recovery
DIAMOND – As Emily McCullough looked over a table full of items found among the tornado debris, she didn’t expect to find anything that belonged to her family.
But then she picked up an old black and white photo and looked closer at it.
And she did this with another, and another. Soon she had more than a dozen photos.
“This is all my family, I’m actually shocked,” she said as she made a pile of pictures. “This is my aunt, my grandma, my mother when she was a kid, me and my brother when we were kids. This one is my great aunt that just passed.”
The McCullough family lives in Diamond Estates subdivision, one of the hardest hit areas by an EF2 tornado that ripped through Diamond and Coal City early Sunday afternoon. Their home was two stories, but is only one story now.
The tornado damaged about 220 homes and more than 75 are considered majorly damaged, Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc previously said. It injured four people, but no deaths.
The village held a meeting Wednesday morning at Diamond Banquet Hall for area residents to get information on what to do next for their recovery. More than 20 organizations, businesses and government agencies were on hand from 8 a.m. to noon to talk with families, help fill out paperwork and pass on information.
While McCullough’s mother, Jody, sat with an agency for help, she wandered over to a table along a wall that displayed photos, papers, clothing and other personal belongings found.
“I was not expecting to at all,” McCullough said. “I was just going to come over and look, but I was not expecting to find this much.
“I can’t wait to show her. The first thing we did after was go around the house to see if there were any pictures and memories [left],” she said.
The residents who arrived to the community meeting early received a presentation that ran down every resource present and what they could provide. From grants and low-interest loans, to counseling and building inspection details, people could sit down one on one with all represented.
“We want to assure you that everyone in here today, along with lots of others, are here to help you,” Kernc said to the crowd.
She warned those present that it will take at least a year for people to get back to normal.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would be in the area Thursday to do assessments to see if the area is eligible for federal funds, but she said this would take time and encouraged residents to move forward with their insurance companies.
People looking for financial assistance were able to apply on site for low-interest loans with Centrue Bank of Coal City and apply for mini-grants provided through funds from Operation St. Nick, the Community Foundation of Grundy County, We Care of Grundy County and United Way of Grundy County.
Because of additional donations – including an anonymous $5,000 donation given Tuesday and funds from Kendall-Grundy Community Action – the organizations have $85,000 to give out in mini-grants, said Joe Schmitz, founder and president of St. Nick.
From Tuesday and Wednesday the organizations received 75 applications, said Denise Gaska, executive director of We Care.
Ray Semplinski, chief building official for Will County, explained that building inspectors would be coming around to see what houses are still liveable and what ones need to be marked as uninhabitable.
“We will be in your neighborhood and we will ask you questions if you are there,” he said.
If your house is posted with a sign that says “Do not occupy,” that does not mean you cannot go inside to retrieve your items, but you cannot stay there and should spend as little time as you can inside, he said.
“Sixty-eight hours ago we were strangers and now we are in this together,” Semplinski said.
Breakfast was provided for residents and volunteers who attended, and Kernc told everyone to take food home to their families. Supplies also were stocked up at the banquet hall, from rakes to construction-size garbage bags.
Coal City Community Unit 1 School District representatives also were on hand to answer questions for parents on all services, including transportation for students who will live at a new address temporarily.
Superintendent Kent Bugg encouraged the parents to bring their children back to school.
“Kids need normalcy, kids need schedules ... and I promise we will take good care of them,” he said.
School was canceled Monday because of transportation issues with the local bus barn being destroyed, but was back in session Tuesday. The majority of kids who have returned to school already are doing great, he said, and those few that are struggling because of the storm are talking with school counselors.
About 60 residents attended the meeting and for those who could not attend, the information will be posted on the village of Diamond website, villageofdiamond.com.