Four months after a tornado ripped through the town of Gifford, Illinois, destroying its water tower, 70 homes, and damaging 40 others, visible and emotional aftereffects remain.
On November 17, the day the tornado touched down, I called my colleague and Gifford resident Molly Hammond, who wistfully noted during our conversation, that “Everyone is all right. But not everything is all right!”
No doubt her sentiments reflected those of Gifford’s other 1,000 residents.
Thankfully no one was killed or seriously harmed. But town leaders and residents knew they had to move very quickly to restore access to water by rebuilding its water plant and 50,000-gallon water tower.
When the water supply was cut, residents got through the initial stages of the emergency by using a 10,000-gallon tank and borrowed water treatment equipment from nearby communities. However, this Band-Aid approach was only temporary as public health and safety concerns remained. Most notably, the water treatment equipment is currently located under a tent and efforts to fight a recent fire at a local construction company were hampered by a lack of water pressure.
So it came as very good news indeed when the town learned that it would soon get a $500,000 USDA Rural Development Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) to help replace the water plant, and another $150,000 ECWAG grant to help construct a new water tower. “This is absolutely the best news we’ve gotten since the tornado struck,” said village board member Tony Cler.
USDA provides ECWAG grants of up to $500,000 to assist rural communities experiencing a significant decline in the quantity or quality of drinking water due to an emergency such as a drought; earthquake; flood; tornado; hurricane; disease outbreak; or chemical spill, leakage, or seepage.
As circumstance would have it, Gifford was the first entity in the nation to utilize USDA Rural Development’s simplified emergency grant process, which facilitated a quicker review and approval process. The funding will augment the town’s insurance and other local monies as construction of the water supply infrastructure gets under way, allowing for the town and its residents to recover more quickly from the tornado’s aftermath.
While boarded-over windows, plastic covered roofs and; and felled trees resembling splintered toothpicks dot Gifford’s landscape, good things are happening. Storm debris is being removed; homes are being repaired; and new ones are being built.
And while not everything is all right just yet, the residents resolve to rebuild – significantly aided by USDA Rural Development funding – signals that it’s just a matter of time before they will be again.
I am glad our funding will help Molly and other residents of Gifford as it continues to heal from last year’s traumatic event. It literally will help our neighbors get back into the flow of life… and water.