December 05, 2018

AFSCME members rush to help after Taylorville tornado

Tammy BowersAfter a destructive tornado hit Taylorville on Dec. 1, AFSCME members leapt into action to help with disaster response and cleanup. Now local unions and Council 31 are putting resources in place to assist members whose homes were hardest hit by the damage.

“This is our community, so everybody pulled together,” said Dustin McClure, a heavy equipment operator for the city of Taylorville and the vice president of AFSCME Local 3349. He says the tornado warning came about 40 minutes ahead of the storm—time he used not only to move his family to safety, but to put on his work clothes so he’d be ready to help as soon as the storm had passed.

“I was dressed to go in and making my way to the shop by the time they called,” McClure said. “Everyone was, because we knew it’d be bad and we’d be called in. Even members whose houses were affected, they boarded them up and came in.”

In all, three tornadoes touched down in Christian County, the State Journal-Register reported, the strongest with winds of up to 155 miles per hour. More than 20 people were injured and 200-plus structures damaged.

Countless trees and power lines were down, many blocking streets. City workers immediately focused on clearing the roadways so first responders could get in and out of the affected areas.

“There were trees down everywhere on the west side,” McClure said. “Police, fire and ambulances had calls nonstop, so we cleared the way for them all Saturday night. Traffic was brutal, so we were doing traffic control. Plus it was nighttime.

“We were trying to tell if the downed power lines were live, because [the electric company] didn’t have enough time to get there. When you’ve got a house fire actively going and the fire department says you’ve got to get this out of the way for us, you do it. Everyone was putting their lives on the line that night.”

That work continued well into the night and started up again at first light on Sunday. “It was all hands on deck and we didn’t stop for lunches or breaks, we just worked through,” McClure said. “We’re just focused on cleanup and our commitment is to get as much done as we can.”

Christian County employees of AFSCME Local 3776 also participated in the response and recovery efforts, and members of locals throughout central Illinois have volunteered their time and assistance, including from Springfield, Lincoln and Sangamon County.

The home of AFSCME Local 2600 member and PEOPLE MVP Tammy Bowers (pictured) suffered severe damage when the devastating winds ripped off its roof. Her local union which represents state employees in Springfield has pledged cash assistance to the family.

AFSCME members who are most seriously impacted by the storm may also be eligible for assistance from the Council 31 Disaster Relief Fund. The council is already working with locals whose members were affected to determine eligibility for this assistance.

“It’s still a mess here and it’s gonna be for a long time,” McClure said, “but the way the community has come together is awesome to see.”

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