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Post office becomes outpost after Ill. tornadoes

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013 10:05 p.m. CDT
Caption
(David Zalaznik – The Peoria Journal Star)
Washington, Ill., resident Amber Hooste, with her son, Max, 3, and her mail in hand, chats with Rebecca Brummitt, the local customer relations coordinator for the U.S. Post Service, after retrieving her mail Tuesday in the lobby of the Washington post office. Hooste and her family, whose home was heavily damaged in the Nov. 17 tornado, have relocated to a Peoria hotel but continue to collect their mail in Washington until their future has been determined.

WASHINGTON – Lost in all the wreckage of house and home is the loss of services people take for granted.

One of those is the daily mail, a service that the local post office has been working hard to re-establish.

The Washington Post Office became a beehive of activity since a tornado hit the central Illinois town Nov. 17. Tucked in a residential neighborhood only a block from Washington Square, the quaint brick office has had thousands of residents come in to pick up their mail daily because the tornado had either taken out everything, or service to their house had to be cut off.

"Logistically, for our deliverers, clerks and our postmasters, it's been really tough," said Rebecca Brummitt, local customer relations coordinator for the U.S. Post Service. "But it's also been really great. They all, along with the community, have rallied together, so it's been really impressive to watch."

Brummitt was trying to help out as much as she could Tuesday morning. Normally working out of Peoria, she will go to any part of central Illinois that is having difficulty with mail delivery. She spent much of the morning buzzing around and talking to every visitor who came to pick up their mail.

"This is the slowest it's been in a while," Brummitt said.

After the tornado, the Washington post office was seeing an estimated 1,400 people a day.

"I would go home and collapse. I was mentally and physically drained," Brummitt said. "I heard so many stories about houses being destroyed. I had people hug me because the mail was the only personal thing they had left."

Ben and Debbie Alexander walked in to collect their mail Tuesday. After a nice greeting, Brummitt started to rattle off a series of questions: do you need a temporary change of address form, what's the address of your damaged home and what's the condition of your house? "It's gone. Destroyed," Ben said.

Brummitt apologized for their loss. "You are resilient, you really are." She then went to the back to find their mail.

"The service has been great," Ben said. "They have to serve so many people and it hasn't been a long wait at all. I usually only have to wait five minutes."

Ben filled out the temporary change of address form while the post office began to fill up with more people picking up their mail. Brummitt collected the form and let them know they will be receiving their mail at their temporary address, Debbie's father's home, starting Wednesday. Ben and Debbie stepped out, more came in.

That included Crystal Montgomery. Her house is on Devonshire Road, one of the hardest hit streets in Washington. Her house was spared with only some damage, but no mail comes to her house because the city doesn't consider it safe yet. As of Tuesday, there are an estimated 400 houses that are structurally fine but do not get service.

"Every day, new addresses are added and we're getting to more people," Brummitt said. "They're adding new places to the list dependent on if it's safe or not. The city tells when and where we can go."

Despite the difficulty with the mail, Montgomery didn't complain. She quickly filled out five temporary change of address forms to cover everyone in her house who gets mail.

"They've been so courteous here," Montgomery said, "It was a small inconvenience considering what others went through."

Brummitt recalled a story she heard of a man who walked out of his basement only to find his house gone. She asked what he was feeling, and he replied he felt nothing negative because he had just called the rest of his family and knew they were safe.

"They just have this perspective of what really matters."

___

Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com

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