Harrisburg Mayor reflects on tornado 1 year later

Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg

HARRISBURG, IL (KFVS) - Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg carries the names of the tornado victims everywhere he goes.

But he's also focused on the resiliency of the city and he's looking ahead to what's next for Harrisburg.

Gregg says about 80 percent of the homes destroyed in the tornado have been rebuilt.

A strip mall served as the backdrop for many stories that day, and Gregg says plans are in the works to rebuild that as well.

He said up to $30 million worth of projects could come to the city.

For Gregg, he says he learned a lot about the Harrisburg community and the Heartland as a whole.

He also knows how important it was to be the spokesman for the city while it was the center of national attention.

"Shortly after the tornado we had a staging area for food and clothing at the Mad Pricer building and I was out there," Gregg said.  "I wasn't sure if some people knew who I was but it was a couple of young mothers walking in with their children and one of the mothers pointed to me and said 'That's the mayor, that's the guy who's making sure you have food and clothing.' I was really taken aback by that and the kids came up and hugged me and I'm still moved by that today."

Along with the rebuilding effort, Mayor Gregg also has been dealing with personal health issues.

An intestinal infection just one month after the tornado forced him into emergency surgery.

He's healthy now and credits doctors in Harrisburg and Evansville, Indiana with saving his life.

Senator Dick Durbin released a statement Thursday saying he's seen his fair share of tornado damage in his life, but when he visited Harrisburg and Ridgway, he saw things he'd never seen before.

"I expected to see some trees blown down and shingles torn off roofs," Durbin said. "Instead I saw entire houses lifted from their concrete foundation and tossed on top of the neighboring house."

He said the loss of homes and property was really difficult to bear, but the real tragedy lies in the lives that were claimed by this tornado.

"But despite this incredible loss, when I visited Harrisburg and Ridgway, what I didn't see were broken spirits," he said. "Instead from the very minute this disaster took place, people came together to rebuild the community.

Durbin said today, when he sees how much the residents of Harrisburg and Ridgway have done to rebuild their communities over the past year, he is proud to be from Illinois and proud to be part of this great nation.

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