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Tornado's aftermath: Illinois city is stunned … and roused to action

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At First Baptist Church, which is sheltering and feeding displaced families with the help of the Red Cross, Deacon Ron Morse, a former two-term mayor of Harrisburg, says his city “has become the center of the universe for all the wrong reasons.”

“Thank God people have stepped up,” Deacon Morse says. “You want to talk about how bad the country is, but when we have a serious situation, people come together. And not just the Christian people, either.”  

Volunteers are not yet allowed to enter the perimeter of the storm’s worst damage – a swath more than a mile in length and 200 yards wide – and a 6 p.m. curfew has been established, both for safety reasons and to keep away looters.

Officials say despite being overwhelmed with generous offers to help from more than 25 groups, they are pausing to let former homeowners pick through the ruins to gather whatever they can to remind them of their former homes: a bag of Beanie Babies, a stack of CDs, a sofa.

“Everyone is upset but we have no place for [the volunteers] to go,” says Lt. Tracy Felty with the Saline County Sheriff Office.

The primary damage site, a bedroom community of ranch homes and two-story apartments, was eerily quiet Thursday afternoon as residents assessed what was left, talked with insurance agencies, and mourned.

Tall oak trees looked like they were festooned with Christmas lights, except their branches held orange, pink, and yellow ribbons of home insulation. Cars were flattened in what were once the garages that held them. All that remained of the home of Jaylynn Ferrell, a 22-year-old nurse who was flung 100 yards up a hill where she died, was a foundation holding a shoe, a Santa doll, and a dresser drawer in its belly.

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