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Saline battered; mostly in the northern territories

Eric Fodor
updated: 5/11/2009 10:20 AM

Before Friday afternoon, most Saline County residents were unfamiliar with the term "derecho," or with an inland hurricane. But they became intimately familiar with the term -- or at least its effects -- this weekend when one tore through the region.

A straight-line wind storm with sustained winds near 90 mph some places -- and gusts over 100 mph -- battered Southern Illinois shortly after noon Friday.

No injuries have yet been reported in Saline County, according to Sheriff Keith Brown. There were, however, injuries and deaths in other areas. One person in Jackson County was killed when a tree fell on his home, causing him to fall to his death. Three people were killed in Missouri and one person died in Kansas as a result of the storm.

Except in Galatia, which was the town hardest hit by the storm in Saline County, power was slowly but surely being restored over the weekend. Electric power is still out in the northwestern part of the county, including Galatia and Raleigh. The electrical problem appears to be with transmission lines.

"There is no electricity running to Galatia," according to Allan Ninness, Saline County Emergency Management Agency coordinator.

"I don't know how long it is going to be. They are continuing to work very hard."

Crews are cleaning debris and downed lines so electrical workers can get lines repaired and poles replaced, Ninness said.

Power was out about 24 hours in Carrier Mills and Eldorado, where about 80 percent of customers were restored as of Sunday night. Most of Harrisburg did not have power outages, but about 600 Ameren customers in the city did not have power on Saturday morning. Power was restored in Harrisburg gradually throughout the weekend.

"Ameren and SouthEastern Illinois Electric Cooperative have worked very hard to get the power back on. They have a lot of problems to the west of us," Brown said.

Several structures were damaged in Galatia. Two homes have major damage and several more have minor damage, Ninness said.

"The Amish school was knocked over. It was a modular home or trailer near the corner of Brown Road and Harco Road," Brown said.

Brown observed several homes with minor damage from fallen trees and limbs around Galatia.

"We think cleanup is going to take a long time," Ninness said.

Southern Baptist Disaster Relief -- sometimes called the chainsaw ministry -- is starting operations in Saline County, particularly in Galatia, Ninness said. Right now the organization is working out of the Galatia First Baptist Church.

"They will be getting more calls as people find out," Ninness said.

The storm blew through the area shortly after noon Friday. It took several hours for roads and streets to be cleared so traffic could be restored and damage assessments could begin. A semi tractor-trailer blew on its side near the Harrisburg-Raleigh Airport. It took some time for emergency personnel to get to the scene as roads were blocked in all directions. Fortunately, the driver was not injured, Brown said.

Eldorado Fire Chief Mike McKinnies said downed trees blocked virtually every route between Eldorado and state Route 34 and Harrisburg firefighters could not reach it due a large tree across state Route 34 between the bridges.

McKinnies said the rescue truck had to drive about 40 mph due to winds between 85 mph and 100 mph. He said the windshield wipers remained in the up position because they could not

fight against the wind. The only clear route was to take Devillez Road in Muddy to Prather Road that was covered with about a foot of water, to Union Grove Road to state Route 34. Firefighter Benji Devillez was able to climb on top of the semi tractor-trailer and free the driver.

Several roads and streets were blocked, including state Route 34.

It took about three hours on Friday for the Department of Transportation and local authorities to get state Route 34 open from Harrisburg to the Franklin County line. Kyle Chambers and Gary Reynolds volunteered a chainsaw and backhoe respectively in the effort to get the highway open, Brown said.

Limbs and trees fell across Poplar Street about one block east of Casey's. A Harrisburg Street and Alley crew and Harrisburg Police pushed the tree out of the way. The biggest part of the limbs were picked up by a city backhoe and carried away; the rest were pushed off the road into yards to get the street open as fast as possible.

Liberty Road and Route 45 south of Carrier Mills were reported blocked, at least for a short time.

A new problem developed while deputies and police were routing traffic around state Route 34. Chief Deputy Todd Fort said while police were directing traffic around the blown-over semi-tractor trailer, a gas leak was reported at 3:01 p.m. near Rileyville Road, power lines were down at Mt. Moriah Road and traffic was returning back to state Route 34. Fort ordered the highway closed until the semi-tractor trailer could be removed.

Between about 1:40 p.m. and 1:55 p.m., Poplar Street in Harrisburg was blocked at McKinley Avenue by several limbs, a limb across state Route 34 near Galatia was blocking the highway, power lines were reported down on Liberty Road and there was an Eldorado Fire Department call due to lines down and smoke at Kerr Street and Jones Street.

-- At 2:06 p.m. a deputy in the Harco area reported limbs were coming down everywhere.

-- At 2:10 p.m. there was a report of three power poles snapped on Raleigh Road.

-- At 2:12 p.m. the deputy in the Harco area estimated wind speeds in excess of 90 mph.

-- At 2:13 p.m. the deputy in the Harco area reported he was leaving the area for safety reasons and a large tree was reported to be across Byrd Road in the Rileyville Area.

The deputy then reported a "huge tree" fell down in front of an Illinois Department of Transportation truck and numerous trees were falling down.

-- At 2:21 p.m. the semi-tractor trailer was reported blown over with the driver trapped inside. The driver was communicating with Saline County Central Dispatch and did not appear to be injured. Eldorado firefighters were toned for a rescue of the driver.

--  At 2:22 p.m. trees were reported blocking state Route 34 just north of Harrisburg at a road construction site.

A large Oak Tree fell at 715 S. Parish St., the home of Paige Lewis and her husband. The tree smashed the deck and blocked two alleys leading to the home. Winds also ripped siding from the garage and the front of the house, according to her father, David Underwood.

Numerous large oak limbs were down at the Harrisburg city cemetery and the city's Public Properties Department workers were busy clearing limbs from the streets.

After roads were cleared and traffic problems became minimal in Saline County, agencies sent police officers to Williamson County as part of the Illinois Law Enforcement Alarm System.

Deputies and Harrisburg officers were sent to Energy, Herrin and Marion for extra patrols, Brown said. Carrier Mills officer Mike Stover helped Marion with extra patrolling, Mayor Louis Shaw said.

The Saline County Detention Center may take some inmates from the Williamson County jail, Brown said. So far, the jail is holding one inmate for Williamson County authorities. The Detention Center is also handling laundry for Williamson County jail since power is still out there.

"That is something we are doing for our neighbors to the west. They've always been a good neighbor to us," Brown said.

"We have offered to help in any way possible."

If the situation were reversed, Williamson County would likely provide a hand to Saline County, Brown said.

Ninness, Brown and Eldorado Street and Alley Superintendent J. B. James agreed people are working very well together and cleanup after the storm is going as well as anyone could expect.

"We're really in pretty good shape, considering," Brown said.

Unfortunately, county residents are becoming seasoned veterans at handling severe storms. In the last year, the county has been hit with two ice storms, a major flood and the storm on Friday.

"We've had people who've been through this before with the ice storms, so they are handling it very well," Brown said.

Carrier Mills

"I know we were darn lucky," Mayor Louis Shaw said Sunday.

The village suffered some damage, mostly in the form of downed trees and limbs, but very few houses were hit in the storm. Shaw is unaware of any significant damage to residences, he said.

Some roofing was torn off residences, Shaw said.

However, there was some damage downtown. The roof of the old Field dime store on Oak Street was torn off during the storm. The street was closed for a while so a backhoe could scoop up the worst of the damage.

The side of  the Angel Scent flower shop building on Oak Street was also damaged.

The village was without power until mid-afternoon Saturday. As far as Shaw knows, power was completely restored by late Saturday night.

Crews from Verizon were seen Sunday working on telephone lines. One line, on Mill Street, was taken out by a falling tree. The poles also buckled under the weight of the tree.

"They are working on phone lines. Most people did not lose phone service, but maybe a few people did," Shaw said.

The Village Board meeting is still set for Tuesday night.


Over 100 trees are down in Eldorado as a result of the wind storm, Street Superintendent J. B. James said.

City crews worked all weekend to get a start on clearing debris, James said. Crews will continue to work through the week to provide as much assistance as possible.

"(Mayor) Rocky (James) wanted us to come out Saturday and help as many people as we could," James said.

About 80 percent of customers had their power restored by Sunday evening, James said.

The city plans to go ahead with a citywide cleanup this weekend, James said.


About 600 people were left without power in Harrisburg. Power was restored to most of those customers by Saturday afternoon or night.

Most Harrisburg businesses were open -- or reopened -- shortly after the storm. Harrisburg was filled with people Friday evening from other parts of the county looking to stock up on candles, batteries and other necessities and -- judging from the lines around restaurants -- get something to eat.

On Saturday, Harrisburg merchants were extremely busy with customers from surrounding towns and Williamson, Franklin and Jackson counties. People without electricity made a run on non-perishable food, batteries, candles, coolers and other essentials just in case the power outage lasted several days.

Harrisburg Wal-Mart Manager Rhonda Bottoms said the store will have to do some serious restocking to be ready for Memorial Day.

"We need more coolers. They did buy a lot of coolers," Bottoms said.

Bottoms gave credit to vendors for ensuring there was enough stock. Homeland Ice ran ice to the store continually to ice down the store's coolers and make sure there was plenty of ice to sell to customers without power. Frito Lay and Hostess made extra deliveries of non-perishable snack items. Coke and Pepsi delivered bottled water on Sunday, even though the companies are not normally in operation on Sunday.

The Wal-Mart Bentonville, Ark., headquarters delivered a trailer of bottled water, flashlights, batteries, oil lights, propane, propane tanks and camping fuel, nearly all of which sold.

"It was like the day after Thanksgiving for three days," Bottoms said.

She commended Wal-Mart Associates for working despite have their homes out of power and some with trees on their houses. Some associates went to the Marion Wal-Mart to help keep their coolers in operation.

And despite storm damage Bottoms said the store nearly sold out of flowers and cards as people shopped for Mother's Day.

Bottoms, a resident of Marion, said power was restored to her home by 9 p.m. Sunday and the Marion strip also had power.

Bottoms said the Harrisburg Wal-Mart suffered a less than $1,000 loss after throwing out seafood items, but the coolers were able to maintain their temperature for 20 hours.

Some radio stations were advising people in counties to our west that Harrisburg was the place to go for gasoline, as power outages put gasoline pumps offline.

Despite the large crowds in Harrisburg, everything was remarkably peaceful. Police Chief Bob Smith enjoyed seeing the crowds -- and the extra traffic for merchants.

"Everybody behaved well. It worked well. We were able to help out, and it helped out our town as well," Smith said.

As in other areas of the county, numerous trees and limbs were down in Harrisburg.


-- The village of Galatia, Corinth Water District and Prospect Water District remain under a boil order.

-- Galatia Mayor David Harrawood declared a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew within the village. The curfew was in force over the weekend.

-- Residents in Galatia, Eldorado and Carrier Mills are being asked to put limbs and trees curbside for picking up by municipal crews.

-- County Board Chairman Jim Fowler declared a state of emergency Saturday afternoon, which is a first step toward getting state assistance for cleanup after the storm, Ninness said. A mobile command center has been set up in Galatia, near the village community center.

-- The State Emergency Operations Center was established Friday afternoon due to the severity of the storm. Illinois Emergency Management Agency officials are working with local authorities to assess damage and determine what assistance the state can provide, according to a news release from IEMA.

-- Franklin, Williamson and Jackson counties are declared state disaster areas, according to a news release from Gov. Pat Quinn's office.


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