Rural water aids Gifford after tornado

GIFFORD, Ill. – A tornado hit Gifford, Ill. on Sunday, Nov. 26th cause considerable damage, including the destruction of at least 20 homes and damage to the town’s water system.

Gifford, a village of 995 people about 10 miles north of Champaign, was hit by the tornado around 1 a.m. and four injuries were reported by Champaign County Sherriff Dan Walsh.

Because of the widespread damage, State Police limited access to the storm-damaged area. Evan Jones, a circuit rider with the Illinois Rural Water Association had to get special permission to enter the area and provide assistance. He met Jess Childress, village superintendent, at the damaged water plant.

“When I pulled up, all that was standing was the aerator and their four sand filters,” Jones explained. “They also had damage to their water tower and it was deemed unsafe to fill until inspected by the manufacturer.”

The tornado also carried away most of the utilities tools and equipment.

Work crews from nearby Paxton and Gibson City arrived and started working to help clear the streets and restore water service. Steve Johnson of EPA was also on site to provide ideas and advice. Jones started working on the village wells, testing them and pulling new wire. After about eight hours of work, the crews were able to start the water flowing.

“It was amazing, since most of the parts were scavenged from what was left of the plant,” Jones said.

The next day the crews returned and started expanding services throughout the town. They stacked hay bales around the make-shift treatment plant, helping insulate the system from the weather. Jones started creating the charts and tables necessary to track the operation of the well pumps and disinfection pumps.

Jones and Don Craig, deputy director of the Illinois Rural Water Association, then began locating service lines for crews to disconnect. Severe damage to homes and business had created several leaks that had to be isolated so that the system could maintain water pressure.

“That was one of the biggest challenges, with all the debris lying around,” Jones said.

After the second day, most of the water service had been restored to Gifford, but major repairs were still needed before the utility could be returned to normal operation.