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November 17 was an unseasonably warm and humid day in Washington, Illinois, a small city outside Peoria with a population of about 16,000. It was a Sunday, and that morning many of the city’s residents were attending church. The sun was shining, and Thanksgiving was around the corner. All was right in the world. In the skies above, however, a warm front swept up from the Gulf of Mexico and collided with a cold front descending from the Great Lakes. The conditions were perfect for disaster.
At 10:59 a.m., a half-mile wide EF4 tornado (the second- strongest possible) touched down in Washington. With winds peaking at 190 miles per hour, the tornado zig-zagged through the city at more than 60 miles per hour. Within a half hour, the storm had passed. Three people died, dozens were injured, nearly 600 homes were destroyed, and more than 1,100 other homes were badly damaged. The city sign reading “Washington” was found 90 miles away in Streator, Illinois, and residents’ personal possessions were found as far north as Chicago. With 564,000 cubic yards of storm debris, Washington residents faced an apocalyptic landscape.
While the devastation was severe, in some ways, Washington was lucky. Had the tornado struck at night, the number of people wounded and killed could have dramatically increased. There was also rapid response from public and nonprofit groups. One of city’s biggest advantages, however, came from the multinational corporation that calls the Washington area home.
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