Mother dedicated to tornado-damaged town

Jessica Lutschg of Washington reads a story book Nov. 22 to her daughter, Kylie, 5, at the Stoney Creek Inn in East Peoria. Lutschg and her daughter survived the Nov. 17 tornado by hunkering down in the basement of her three-level townhouse in the central Illinois town. Her dream is to rebuild her home, which was completely destroyed, and she is praying that her neighbors will, too.
Jessica Lutschg of Washington reads a story book Nov. 22 to her daughter, Kylie, 5, at the Stoney Creek Inn in East Peoria. Lutschg and her daughter survived the Nov. 17 tornado by hunkering down in the basement of her three-level townhouse in the central Illinois town. Her dream is to rebuild her home, which was completely destroyed, and she is praying that her neighbors will, too.

WASHINGTON – Jessica Lutschg thinks it might have been as little as three minutes from when she received a call from a friend about a tornado warning in the area to the complete destruction of her three-level townhouse in a Washington cul-de-sac.

First she got call from a friend warning that tornadoes may be coming. Then she got an emergency system notification text about possible tornadoes. Then she heard the sirens.

The 30-year-old single mother of one decided to open the front door so she could see the sky and the tornado was already a few hundred yards away, she says. She grabbed her daughter and hauled her into the basement, where the two got into a large tote beneath the staircase as the house, and every other house in the tight-knit neighborhood, yielded to the extreme violence of an EF-4 level tornado Nov. 17.

“I was just thinking that we were going to die,” Lutschg says. “That sucker hit hard.”

She believes that if she had been in another room that was not so close to the basement, she might not have made it. If she had been taking a shower or doing laundry when she got the first call, she said, she and her daughter – a 5-year-old bouncing blonde named Kylie – would likely be dead.

The tornado pushed Lutschg’s car, which had been parked in the garage, into the space that used to be the kitchen and over the top of the basement stairwell under which Lutschg and her daughter had taken cover. Had it been pushed another few feet it would have trapped the two in the basement for who knows how long. At first, Lutschg says, the first responders were sending in men on foot because they could not get vehicles through all the debris, so it could have taken a long time to move that car.

As it stood, Lutschg says she screamed for what felt like forever until a group of neighbors heard and came to help pull her and her daughter from the basement to safety. One man, noticing that Lutschg was barefoot, took off his shoes and gave them to her to wear amid all the nail-strewn wreckage.

To get some idea of what was lost materially in the tornado, a simple Google Maps search of Lutschg’s address, 1507 Flossmoor Ave., reveals the street view of a seemingly quiet, safe and clean cul-de-sac community in a small Midwestern city. One-and-a-half-car garages line up between stretches of well-kept lawns. Sensible sedans and sport utility vehicles sit on driveways and along the curbs.

While Lutschg, speaking with the Daily Times Friday, says she misses the house she moved into when she was 3 months pregnant with Kylie – a house which was the only home her daughter had ever known – what she misses most is her neighbors. All the parents in the cul-de-sac could count on each other for help at all times, Lutschg says, and the children played together constantly.

Lutschg says that children from the neighborhood were always coming over, and she loved providing them space to play. In fact, she said, children stopped by so often she could identify each of them by how they knocked or rang the doorbell – one rang the bell incessantly until someone answered the door, one child tapped on the door, one child knocked and one child banged on the door, and she knew who it was based on that.

Strangely, the tornado has strengthened Lutschg’s bond with her city. The way residents who had not been hit came running to help after the tornado, and the way everybody has helped each other has made a strong impression on Lutschg.

“This happening has shown me how much more I love Washington, and what the people and community mean to me,” Lutschg says.

Her dream is to rebuild her home in that neighborhood, she says, and she is praying that her neighbors will, too. It could take a couple years to get back to normal, she believes, but it will happen. And amid all the hassles of dealing with insurance and getting supplies and now searching for a place to rent, she says she knows there is an endgame. The insurance company is trying to help her find a place to rent for now, and Lutschg would like to get as close to Washington as possible. She would not even mind a one-bedroom place. She and her daughter are close and can share.

Lutschg describes herself often as a strong single mom, though the more she says it the more it seems less like a boast and more a reminder for herself; self-motivation. The week had not been easy, after all.

For the first few days she cried constantly, she says. She was still so jarred that she only got one hour of sleep that first night and could not eat. Her cat Oliver, whom she had for 13 years, went missing in the tornado and she had not found him, yet

“The first three days when I pulled up to my street I’d just cry,” Lutschg says. “The first three days were so hard. I just looked at the piles and I couldn’t see anything that was mine. Nothing was there. It was all in pieces.”

After working as a dental assistant for a few years for a now-retired Peoria dentist, Lutschg was between jobs. She says she was getting ready to start taking classes at Illinois Central College to become a dental hygienist and had recently started working out every day and adjusting her diet. She was trying to improve her life when the tornado hit and put all of that on pause while she focuses on day-to-day recovery.

She needs to start some kind of work in the next few weeks, Lutschg says, but first she needs to take care of her daughter and get her back into a daily routine. While Lutschg has been staying at Stoney Creek Inn in East Peoria, Kylie had been staying with her grandparents to provide her with a familiar space. However, Lutschg wants to get her right back into school after Thanksgiving, which is when she says she was told the school would reopen. She also wants Kylie to get back to her gymnastics classes, though Lutschg is worried she may have hurt the girl’s shoulder when she grabbed her daughter in a panic and hauled her into the basement ahead of the tornado.

As a single mother, her daughter’s emotional and psychological health are her top concern, despite all the other things nipping at her in need of attention.

As far as recovering things from the house, Lutschg has only found a few odds and ends. Recovering things is difficult amid all the nails and destruction, as well as with the rain damaging stuff most of the week. She has lost several sentimental things that insurance could never replace.

For now, Lutschg spends her days trying to find as many positives as she can wrap her arms around.

“I think this has forever changed my life,” Lutschg says. “Like in 10 years I’ll look back and just know that I got through.”

She sighs.

“Each day is hard. I’m lucky the people that are reaching out to me — the hugs from people, the support — I’m looking for all the positive things I can.”


Source: Pekin Daily Times,


Information from: Pekin Daily Times,

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