For Illinois tornado survivors, relief is just being alive

WASHINGTON, Illinois Wed Nov 20, 2013 2:02pm EST

1 of 3. Dana Anderson (L) stand in what was her kitchen as she talks to her grandfather Jerdie Bullard after a tornado in Washington, Illinois, November 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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WASHINGTON, Illinois (Reuters) - After breaking her leg late last year, having a double mastectomy in the summer and seeing her house destroyed by a tornado that swept through Washington, Illinois, on Sunday, Kim Wright said her luck was due to change.

"They say bad luck comes in threes and I've had my three," Wright, 56, said on Wednesday, standing in the pulverized wreckage of what just three days ago had been her home. "I'm due now for some good fortune."

Five minutes later a group of people who were cleaning up the debris of a house 100 feet away pulled Wright's cat, Fred, out of the rubble, alive.

"Oh my God, he's everything to me," she said through tears of joy, running to collect her cat.

The fast-moving storm system that rolled destructively through the Midwestern United States killed eight people in two states and may have caused $1 billion in property damage. It damaged around 1,000 homes in Washington, a small city located about 150 miles southwest of Chicago.

As cleanup work proceeded on Wednesday, many homeowners like Wright who were home when the storm hit said they felt lucky to be alive.

"If it weren't for the sirens, I would be dead," said Wright, who made it to her basement in time. "You'd be sifting through the wreckage looking for pieces of me."

Crews had worked overnight to clear the streets in the neighborhood that was devastated by the tornado, with heavy equipment in the area hauling out debris. Volunteers walked the streets offering water, gloves or heating pads to people sifting through debris for their belongings.

More than 130,000 homes and businesses in the U.S. Midwest remained without power on Wednesday morning following severe thunderstorms Sunday night, according to local power companies. There had been over 800,000 outages on Monday morning.

'USED TO WEATHER'

Ed Henderson, 41, was replacing the power steering pump on his Ford F-350 pickup truck when he heard the sirens on Sunday.

"We're used to weather in Illinois so like any good resident of Illinois I stuck around to see what was happening," he said cheerfully, spitting tobacco juice on the ground.

About 10 minutes later he saw the tornado touch down a quarter of a mile (half a kilometer) from his house, hurling debris through the air. Hearing the freight train-type sound often referred to by tornado survivors, he threw himself down the basement stairs as all the windows in the house blew out.

Henderson's house is no more, his chimney is in the front yard, his truck about 600 feet behind the house and all he can find of his 30 foot (nine meters) camper is the spare wheel and air conditioning unit. His dogs were trapped under a door, which saved their lives.

"The way I'm looking at it, I got off pretty lightly," Henderson said.

Many others here were lucky because they were at church when the tornado hit. When Dick Stinson, 65, and his family returned home their house was almost entirely gone and his pickup truck was lodged in his neighbor's living room.

Stinson plans to rebuild and hopes to back in a new house on the same spot in six months.

"We were very blessed that none of us was hurt," he said, surveying the smashed wood and other detritus that formerly constituted his place of residence. "As for the rest of it, all we lost was stuff. And that's all it is, just stuff."

(Editing by Scott Malone and Bob Burgdorfer)

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