Paula Chumbley has seen her share of crises during her 20 years as the village president of Cisco. But none compared to the battle zone that awaited her when the sun rose after a tornado struck the village in the early hours of May 23.
At least 22 homes were damaged and 50 to 60 large limbs fell. At least three 100-year-old trees were destroyed, including one next to the Cisco Center and fire department that was a source of town pride.
But the event also showed the village’s resolve, as well as a willingness of people and agencies from across the area to get the town back on its feet again.
“We just had a wonderful outpouring of help,” said Chumbley, noting that food for volunteers was donated that day by Monticello’s Subway and Casey’s, the Cerro Gordo Casey’s, Kyle Koester Keller/Williams Realty, and ice provided by Lucia’s Catering.
The twister – originally classified as straight line winds – came through about 1:30 a.m. on that Thursday, knocking out power, downing power limbs, and resulting in trees blocking Route 32 for a period of time.
The National Weather Service categorized it as an EF-1 category tornado with winds of up to 100 miles per hour.
Volunteer firemen from departments in Monticello, Mid-Piatt, Cerro Goro and Argenta-Oreana quickly arrived on the scene, providing enough help to make sure no one was hurt.
“That provided manpower, so we could go door-to-door and do an assessment of each property to make sure everyone was accounted for, and safe,” said Cisco Fire Chief Matt Wilhelm.
“No one was injured,” said a thankful Chumbley. “The fire department was out in the dark with lights to make sure everyone was all right before it became daylight.”
Power was also restored to most of Cisco’s 300 residents by the end of the day.
“They sent their army in,” Wilhelm said about Ameren power crews. “They worked with my crews to get new poles up as soon as we cleared trees. They worked really well with us.”
Also helping with the cleanup were crews and equipment from Sangamon, Goose Creek, Monticello and Willow Branch townships.
Wilhelm also had high praise for County Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Holmes, who provided resources, contacts, and answered questions about navigating the emergency response process.
Wilhelm, who is also the Willow Branch Township Road Commissioner, knew he lived in a strong county.
It’s reaction following the tornado just strengthened that conviction.
“You can always count on the residents of Piatt County to help. It just proves how strong a community we are as a county,” he said.
Cisco was up and functioning fully two days after the storm, but there is still some structural damage at some homes that needs to be addressed, added Wilhelm.
But for the most part, the Piatt County village is no worse for the wear.
“The landscape looks a little different with the loss of trees. But we’re okay,” added Wilhelm.