When the E-4 tornado blew through Harrisburg at 4:56 a.m. on Feb. 29 it dropped a large brick in 10-month old Dawson Dillard's playpen. Dawson was down in the basement with father, Sean, mother, Ashley and sister Hannah, 6.
Their house was one of the first ones damaged. The house at 1305 S. Granger St. faced east and the entire north wall was blown off as the twister passed. They were all unhurt.
Ashley had heard on the Weather Channel that a severe storm was headed directly for Harrisburg. She got them all down to the basement in time.
"When the storm hit we heard loud wind, the lights went out, all the windows shattered and debris came through an open door," said Sean, 26. "I covered the baby and my wife held Hannah. The north wall of the house was just gone. Dawson's room was on the north side."
The family had not even had time to feel at home when it was gone.
"We had just moved in two weeks before the tornado hit," he said.
"The tornado took the garage and most everything in it. We had a lot of stuff in there from the move. A filing cabinet survived, but we lost my camera collection, legos and a deep freezer that was totaled."
They needed a place to stay.
"We moved in with Ashley's parents in Harrisburg but we were all in one room. So by summer we had a camper on her parent's lot and we slept in it," Sean said.
Sean has been delivering papers and goes to school at SIU studying photography. Ashley works as a home care specialist.
The Christian Community Compassion Center, an interdenominational outreach group, offered the Dillards a house at 328 McIlrath St. in Harrisburg. It was only two bedrooms, but the Church of Christ agreed to add two more bedrooms and convert one bedroom into a dining area. Thus the two-bedroom home became a three-bedroom home. The donation from the Church of Christ was $15,000. The Legence Bank donated the property itself. It was a foreclosure.
Harrisburg Project Storm actually built the addition with volunteer labor they provided.
The Dillards have been putting in plenty of sweat equity.
"The past two weeks, I have been working on the home every day," said Sean.
"I don't know when we will move in. We still need gutters, heating, air and a storage building."
The outpouring of generosity touched the family deeply.
"It's overwhelming. So many people helping us. With the cleanup and then the house. The churches and all have been great."