Harrisburg Remembers Lost Lives on Fifth Anniversary of Leap Day Tornado

It will be five years Wednesday since a deadly Ef 4 tornado ripped through a small town in Illinois taking the lives of eight people and injuring more than one hundred.

But the city of Harrisburg, Illinois was resilient and reflective on this anniversary of that dark day.

5 years, nearly 2,000 days have passed.

But one day was all it took to change the city of Harrisburg, Illinois forever.

Mayor John McPeek of Harrisburg said,"I got up and opened my door and the ground was shaking and then all of a sudden the wind, I could hear the wind coming in."

February 29,  2012 Mayor McPeek-- then a city councilman's home was in the red zone. 

McPeek said, "pretty scary, you don't realize, the 1st time I'd ever been in a tornado and it was very very scary."

McPeek said, "You could smell gas, tree limbs everywhere, trees down everywhere, houses just totally demolished."

The Mayor's home-- one of the 600 destroyed or damaged.

The Mayor said, "it blew off the back part of my house."

But just like the people in his city-- McPeek was not down for long.

Toni Williams of Harrisburg, who worked at the Walmart hit by the storm said, "its pretty scary but you just pray, rebuild, and keep going."

However, rebuilding isn't always easy.

McPeek said, "the first year was really tough because cleaning everything up took probably 6-8 months to get everything."

Five years and millions of dollars later the city has picked up most all of its pieces, building something from the ashes Mayor McPeek calls better than ever before.

"I strongly believe that Harrisburg grew because of the tornado, we had new businesses come to town and just every business they have built or remodeled, I believe its helped this town, its made us stronger," said McPeek.

A strength that emerged out of weakness and tragedy. 

The Mayor said, "you think you're really tough, sometimes until you see something like that and then you're not so tough."

Tomorrow, despite severe weather threats, hopefully a better day. 

The Mayor and many people in the city say they are on high alert more than ever before.

Mayor McPeek said, "hopefully, we'll never have to go through something like this again."

The city held a memorial service Tuesday morning for the eight people who lost their lives at the place where the tornado first touched down.  


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