After the storm: Midwesterners try to recover after string of deadly tornadoes

Posted at 6:31 AM, Nov 19, 2013
and last updated 2013-11-19 08:31:09-05

By Gary Tuchman and Holly Yan

WASHINGTON, Illinois (CNN) — Now the long, arduous road to recovery begins.

Hundreds of families in the Midwest must find a way to rebuild their lives after 76 reported tornadoes destroyed almost everything they had.

Here are some of those accounts – stories of those who survived, those who didn’t, and those left devastated by the twisters.


‘She just kept saying, ‘Get me out”

Amy Tippin and her two boys survived the tornado that tore through New Minden, Illinois, by huddling in a creek bed. When it passed, she rushed next door to look for her grandparents.

She found her grandmother, 78-year-old Frances Hoy, under a pile of rubble.

“She just kept saying, ‘Get me out, get me out,” Tippin tearfully recalled to CNN affiliate KSDK. “I just was holding her. I told her how much I loved her.”

Hoy didn’t make it.

Neither did Hoy’s brother, 80-year-old Joseph Hoy. His body was found in a field about 100 yards from the decimated home the siblings shared.

“They’d do anything for you,” neighbor Bill Funke told the Belleville News-Democrat.

“They were friendly, outgoing and really liked exotic animals,” he told the paper.

In addition to the Hoys, the storms claimed the lives of four other people in Illinois and two in Michigan.

In Washington, Illinois, the body of 51-year-old Steve Neubauer was found near his home, Tazewell County officials said.

And three people in Massac County — Kathy George, 58; Robert Harmon, 56; and Scholitta Burrus, 63 — were killed when the storm struck southern Illinois.

In Perry, Michigan, 59-year-old Phillip Smith was found dead, tangled in live power lines. Officials said a 21-year-old man was killed in Jackson County, but didn’t release his name.


‘I don’t know how anybody made it through this’

Mandy Lancaster begged her husband to stop filming the twister headed straight toward their home in Washington, Illinois. But he couldn’t. He was transfixed by the extent of nature’s fury as the tornado ripped his house to shreds.

“I got hit by some debris or something and cut my eye in three places,” Kris Lancaster said, his right eye heavily bandaged.

Eventually, he ducked into the basement and survived. His wife and children survived, too. But the house did not.

“I don’t know how anybody made it through this,” Mandy Lancaster said in front of her open refrigerator, which stood alone amid mounds of unrecognizable debris.

The couple sifted through the pieces for anything they could start rebuilding their lives with.

“Ah-ha! Hahaha!” Kris Lancaster shouted as he wrested a DVD from under a pile of furniture. “The video of my wedding.”


‘It’s gone. I don’t know where it went’

The storm destroyed or severely damaged as many as 400 homes in Washington alone, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday.

A National Weather Service team confirmed the storm had winds of 170 mph to 190 mph.

In Kokomo, Indiana, the roof of a building sat in the middle of a road. A car rested on the mountain of rubble from a leveled home.

More than 570,000 people in Illinois, Indiana and Michigan were still without power early Tuesday.

The mayor of Washington, Illinois, summed up the situation in a few words:

“Devastation. Sadness. People that lost everything,” Mayor Gary Manier said.

The storm struck his town around 11 a.m. Sunday, when many of its 10,000 residents were at church.

That’s where Curt Zehr was when his wife texted him.

“She texted me and said the house is gone,” Zehr told CNN. “I said, ‘Whose house?’ ” She said, ‘Our house.’ ”

Resident Michelle Crumrine said the winds swept her home and everything in it clean away.

“A lot of people have a pile of rubble still, and I don’t have anything,” she said. “It’s gone. I don’t know where it went.”

Steve Bucher, too, has months of rebuilding ahead.

The storm took most of his house down to the decking over his walk-out basement,

“Within 30 seconds, the house was literally vibrating from the direct hit of this funnel cloud,” Bucher said.

“I think my attitude was in the next minute and a half, we’re either going to be in heaven, we’re going to be in the hospital or we’re going to walk out of here.”

And they did. Neither he nor his wife was hurt.

“Everything else is rebuildable,” Bucher said. “I couldn’t replace her.”

CNN’s Gary Tuchman reported from Washington, Illinois. CNN’s Holly Yan reported and wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Justin Lear also contributed.

™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.