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Rain Might Slow Cleanup In Tornado-Ravaged Washington

Residents of Elgin Avenue sort through debris after a tornado struck on November 17, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. Several tornadoes touched down across the Midwest today with at least three people reported dead in Illinois. (Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Residents of Elgin Avenue sort through debris after a tornado struck on November 17, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. Several tornadoes touched down across the Midwest today with at least three people reported dead in Illinois. (Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

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WASHINGTON, Ill. (CBS) – Tornado victims in downstate Washington are at a crossroads as relief and recovery efforts continue. As survivors sift through the debris from at least 1,000 damaged and destroyed homes, they’re also finding bright spots and good reason to look to the future.

CBS 2’s Kris Gutierrez reports the sun was out Wednesday morning in Washington – just east of Peoria – but rain was in the forecast later in the afternoon, making the already difficult clean-up process that much harder.

Meantime, the community has been rallying behind some of its local athletes. The Washington High School football team was scheduled to travel to Springfield on Saturday, to face Sacred Heart-Griffin in the state Class 5A semifinals.

The wrestling team, currently ranked 3rd in the state, was scheduled for its first meet next weekend.

“When you get knocked down, you have to get back up, and you have to keep fighting,” wrestling coach Bryan Medlin said. “This town, this community’s been knocked down, and it’s a way that they can kind of put this all in perspective, and use those lessons that maybe athletics give them.”

Jacob Warner’s home was one of those destroyed by the tornado on Sunday.

“The roof had caved in on everything, and I found a two-by-four on my wrestling stuff, so I didn’t have to dig too deep for it,”

Teammate Kyle Stratton said the upcoming meet is about more than just the wrestlers.

“It’s just amazing to know that the whole community’s behind us, and that’s what we’re pretty much playing for. We’re not playing for ourselves. It’s selflessness. It’s just for our community,” he said.

There were some encouraging signs of progress in the cleanup and recovery on Wednesday, as power was slowly returning to Washington. Officials said they hope to have all power restored by the end of the day, weather permitting.

Also Wednesday, Washington Community High School will be open to students and staff from 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., and counselors will be available. Classes will resume Thursday at the high school, as well as District 50 schools, and St. Patrick School. District 51 schools might not reopen until after Thanksgiving. District 52 schools might reopen Monday.

Meantime, in Coal City and Diamond – two other towns hit by a tornado on Sunday – local officials and volunteers were meeting with residents on Wednesday to make sure they have the resources they need, such as insurance and counseling.

CBS 2′s Susanna Song reports victims in the two towns don’t have far to get food and clothing, as a local church has been packed with supplies for those who need them.

Now that a lot of the cleanup is done in Coal City and Diamond – two neighboring towns about 50 miles southwest of Chicago – residents have begun focusing internally, trying to figure out what kind of food and supplies they need.

Every classroom at the United Methodist Church of Coal City has been packed with things they might need.

One room was being used to store food, while others held cleaning supplies, and empty boxes for residents to use to clear out their homes, diapers, school supplies, and much more.

“This stuff is for you, and I don’t want none of it to go to waste. So if you do have to move out of your homes, and you’re going somewhere different … we want to be able to stock your cupboards,” Lori Cora, a volunteer organizer at the church, told local residents. “I don’t want you to have to worry about going to the grocery store. I don’t want to have you worry about going to get diapers.”

Donations have been overflowing for the residents of the two small towns – from both individuals and companies.

On Wednesday, victims of Sunday’s tornado gathered at the Diamond banquet hall, to hear what’s next – the next steps after losing their homes.

“We haven’t really soaked it all in yet,” Ken Powell said.

He lost his home in the storm, including antique tools that had been handed down for generations.

“I have a whole wall in my garage, full of old antique tools from my great grandpas, and grandpas. I had them all on the wall. … I found some, but probably 80 percent are gone. So that’s the stuff that hurts,” he said.

One Chicago firefighter has been in the area since Sunday, spending his vacation time helping storm victims.

“I learned this long ago: you do the right thing, at the right time, in the right way; even if you don’t want to do it,” he said.

For now, the biggest need for the victims is money to rebuild their homes and lives.

Officials are still waiting for details on what type of state assistance the towns will receive.