The Washington Times-Herald

November 20, 2013

City, county crews committed to cleanup work

By Mike Grant Times Herald
The Washington Times-Herald

---- — In a matter of minutes a tornado swept through Daviess County and Washington on Sunday, leaving behind a massive mess. The good news was that despite the destruction, there were no reports of death or injury. Now that everyone has counted their fingers and toes, what remains is a huge cleanup of the debris left behind.

“We put crews to work almost immediately,” said President of the Daviess County Commissioners Tony Wichman.

“When the power was out, we were running fuel to the critical generators around the county and our highway department was out trying to open the roads.”

While the damage inside the city of Washington was concentrated along a narrow corridor that extended from the west side shopping center along Sycamore to Meridian Street, the damage in the county extended over several miles.

“It did damage out along Maysville Road, Clark Road, Old 50, Cindy Kay Drive, Daviess Drive, 11th Street Road and 21st Street Road,” said Wichman. “We estimate in the county there were 40 to 50 properties damaged and 12 to 15 of those may be beyond repair. I believe that as people look more closely there may be even more damage. I saw one house that at first looked fine, but the storm picked it up and moved it a couple of feet off of the foundation.”

The widespread destruction from the EF-2 tornado means county crews will be facing a lot of extra work helping residents get rid of the rubble and debris left behind. “We have declared a state of emergency,” said Wichman.

“For the next nine days we intend to have crews out in the damaged areas. We are asking people to get as much of that debris to the curb and we will haul it off.”

With volunteers coming into the county to help with cleanup, officials are urging people with damages to take advantage of the opportunity to get the work done now. “It will take us a little time to get this done,” said Wichman. “We’re going to work all we can to help people out.”

For city crews the work began virtually the second the tornado hit.

“Our police and fire crews have been working some really long hours,” said Mayor Joe Wellman. “We put a curfew in place and have had them down in the damaged areas.”

The city’s utility crews have also been working around the clock. “The electric guys have worked some really long hours,” said Wellman. “We’ve had people working around the clock trying to get as much electricity back on as quickly as we could. We even had some crews from Jasper come in and give us a hand. They have most of the power back on, but there are some circuits in the harder hit areas that will take some time to restore.”

The mayor’s office has been doing double duty. Not only is it coordinating the cleanup effort, but also doing damage assessments for possible state and federal aid.

“Councilman (Eric) Bassler and I have walked the entire length of the tornado stricken area and talked with the residents there,” said Wellman. “We’re documenting the damage so that the state can see what needs to be done.”

Clearing the debris and rubble left behind by the storm is the next order of business. “We’re trying to coordinate some of the volunteers so that people can get their property cleaned up,” said Wellman. “We want people to get their debris to the curb.

“We’re also asking that they try to put the branches and limbs in one pile and any metal in a separate pile so that crews can pick it up. We are going to try and get as much of that done as we can over the next 10 days.”

City officials say at least 49 homes were damaged in the storm and some of them will be considered total losses, and that doesn’t include several businesses that were also shattered by the tornado. Still, the mayor is moved by the response to the disaster.

“All of our crews in the city have been working well together,” he said. “We have received offers for help from several of our neighboring communities and I would really like to thank the businesses in the area that have donated food, brooms and equipment to help us get back on track toward rebuilding.”