Survival stories turn to rebuilding stories

WASHINGTON – In the days after the tornado struck Washington last November, almost anyone you talked to had a story of narrow escape and survival. Now they have stories of rebuilding.

Newlyweds: Daniel and Jamie Cobb were married in spring 2013 and bought their first home, a single-story ranch with a basement, shortly thereafter. The tornado took the home but spared the basement, where they couple had taken shelter.

Now Daniel Cobb spends many of his lunch hours looking over the home that’s being built on the site. He hopes to move back in sometime in the next few months. The Cobbs, like several people around town, are making one pricey addition – a $6,000 safe room in the basement in case there’s ever another day like Nov. 17.

“It’s just got a lot of concrete, a steel door,” Daniel Cobb said.

The safe room was a condition for Jamie Cobb to move back to the spot, Daniel Cobb said.

The farmer: In the hours and days after the tornado, Curt and Sue Zehr’s family and friends quickly cleared away the debris that was left after their house on the outskirts of Washington blew away. But they also walked the surrounding farm fields, clearing as much as they could of the metal siding, trash, papers, clothing and other wreckage that blew in.

That meant the Zehrs were able to plant corn, even if the fields still held some debris, long before they could move back home.

“We had a business to run,” he said.

But now a new house is rising, and the family has a target move-in date.

“11-17 is the day it happened, and I’d sure like to be in by then,” Curt Zehr said.

The mayor: Before November, Gary Manier had a part-time job as mayor of Washington. Since then, it’s been full-time demands and then some.

Manier, who works in customer service for Caterpillar Inc., has become the face of the city for local, regional and national news stories.

He’s thrown out the first pitch at a Chicago Cubs game, pleaded for more government disaster aid for the city and made Washington’s case in many dozens of news interviews. Now in his 14th year as mayor, he’s taken on a job he never envisioned for himself.

“Before the tornado, mine was pretty manageable,” Manier said, though he adds that the tornado has stoked his passion for his hometown.

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