Central Illinois Strong - Residents look back at the Washington Tornado

10 Years Later
Published: Nov. 16, 2023 at 2:30 PM CST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2023 at 11:06 AM CST
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(25News Now) - 10 years ago on November 17th, 2013, Central Illinois was part of a historic tornado outbreak that spanned seven states. It forever changed the landscape, bringing changes to multiple communities across the region. Washington was the hardest hit, with more than $800 million in damages.

A decade later, the memories from the historic day remain fresh for many Washington residents like Joey Davidson.

“The family hid underneath a utility sink, I kind of grabbed on to the utility sink since there wasn’t any room for me and the ride began,” Davidson said as he recalled the events from that day.

Shortly after 11 a.m., parts of the city including Davidson’s home took a direct from from the massive tornado. It measured half a mile wide. It was rated an EF-4, producing winds up to 190 miles per hour.

“Debris was piling up on us. I actually got sucked out of the house and set on top of the debris while the family stayed underneath. It was surreal,” said Davidson.

More than 245 people were injured and 3 were killed as a result of the tornado.

“It was just like a big mess. Just something rotating real fast, real violent,” said Washington Police Department Officer Derek Thomas.

Thomas was on patrol that morning and came face to face with the tornado only a few blocks down the road.

“It was chaotic. I mean we were going house to house spray painting houses that were already checked and saying “no one was in here,”,” said Thomas.

Destruction could be seen for miles. “It was almost like we didn’t know where we were at. We’re used to seeing you know, “hey turn right at the pink house,” or whatever. After the tornado that was all gone,” added Thomas. He said he believes the death tool may have been higher if the tornado hit later in the day.

“Everyone was at church, so the tornado went through basically a whole bunch of houses. Had it been a couple hours later, everyone watching the bears game or whatever it could have been a lot worse,” said Thomas.

It took 36 days to clean up all the debris. Days turned to years to rebuild the homes lost that November morning. Despite the devastation, the clean up was a community effort. That effort came to be known as ‘Washington Strong’. “The people here, they really did solidify. They came together. Someone who lost everything is still helping someone across the street who also lost everything,” said Thomas.

Davidson and his family were just one of the many families to lose everything that morning. But he too, saw the same resilience from friends and those afar. “It was challenging but a lot of my friends came to the aid. You know, it was nice. Even people that I didn’t know that were contractors or subcontractors they wanted to help and be part of it,” said Davidson.

Today, the Davidson’s live on the same property where their old house once stood. The rebuild took more than a year. Like the Davidson’s home, the city gradually rebuilt. Over the last ten years new has replaced old.

“Thomas: “Progress is here. People have stayed and people are really believing and funding into Washington and its future,” said Thomas.

While some old landmarks were lost to the tornado, one thing remains to this day. The strength of a city to rebuild and keep rebuilding - Washington Strong.