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The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • Tornado book of SIU journalism school to be released

  • Over the past several months Harrisburg and Ridgway residents in the path of the Feb. 29 tornado have met Southern Illinois University students with cameras and notebooks recording the devastation and the recovery.
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  • Over the past several months Harrisburg and Ridgway residents in the path of the Feb. 29 tornado have met Southern Illinois University students with cameras and notebooks recording the devastation and the recovery.
    After a few weeks the area began returning to normal, but when SIU journalism staff William Recktenwald and Phil Greer reviewed some of the unused work they knew they had more material to share than space available in the university's Daily Egyptian newspaper.
    "There were thousands of pictures and a lot of them were really good. We said, 'Let's do a book,'" Recktenwald said.
    That book "4:56 a.m.: The Story of the February 29, 2012 Tornado" is now completed and a 2 p.m. Aug. 19 release is planned at Harrisburg District Library.
    Recktenwald — Karbers Ridge resident — passed through the region on his way to work the morning of Feb. 29. He was en route to a High School Southern Illinois Press Association meeting to give a presentation and though he knew a tragedy had occurred — ultimately eight fatalities, scores injured and homes destroyed — he could not stop.
    "It was so early I counted 30 emergency vehicles between here and Marion," Recktenwald said.
    "It looked like a chase from one of those wild movies."
    He called the Daily Egyptian and learned the student journalists and photojournalists were on their way.
    The Chicago Tribune called asking if the students had any materials. The next morning, a photo by photojournalism student Steve Matzker — editor of the tornado book — and a story written by three students was on the paper's front page, and included in the paper's blog. It was a proud moment for Recktenwald and Greer — both former Chicago Tribune reporter's themselves.
    "They were here in that terrible situation standing amidst all the destroyed property. It was a very teachable moment," he said.
    The university decided the book presented an opportunity for community service in documenting the tragedy for the people affected by it and to help with the recovery. Once the printing costs are paid, proceeds will go to the Harrisburg STORM group with the goal of rebuilding all tornado affected homeowners and to help residents in Ridgway. Recktenwald hopes the book will generate $10,000 to $15,000 for the recovery.
    Recktenwald contacted a few Harrisburg sponsors and Williams and Associates Insurance, Banterra Bank, Primary Care Group and Harrisburg Medical Center agreed. SIU Chancellor Rita Cheng also advanced money for the printing.
    The result is 80 pages of color photographs along with a story and introductions by SIU School of Journalism President Bill Freivogel, Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon and Cheng.
    There are many photos of emergency crews, but the bulk of the work concentrates on the tornado survivors trying to come to grips with their loss in the hours and days following the devastation.
    Page 2 of 2 - "I think it's a quality piece of work," Recktenwald said.
    The book will be available to the public for $10 at the library Aug. 19 and Recktenwald anticipates distributing them through Harrisburg and Ridgway businesses.

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