(CBS) — With a long, harsh winter finally over, residents in downstate Washington have resumed the rebuilding process in earnest, nearly five months after the town was devastated by a tornado.

“We smell sawdust now,” Washington Mayor Gary Manier said. “Now you hear the sounds of airguns, and backup alarms on trucks. It’s just going to be one of those sounds of summer coming up that the folks in Washington are going to really appreciate, and love to hear and smell this new construction. We’re moving forward.”

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports the town has issued 496 building permits, but Manier noted that’s not even half of the number of homes destroyed by the twister.

Approximately 1,100 homes were severely damaged or destroyed when a tornado swept through Washington on Nov. 17.

Manier said he hopes everyone who lost their home in the tornado decides to return to Washington.

“I feel like our community’s like Joplin [a city in Missouri devastated by a tornado in 2011]. It lost 4.9 percent total population from their devastation,” he said. “We hope, if they do leave – we hope none of them do – but if they do, we’re seeing a lot of the lots that people are not going to rebuild on being sold to either other folks, or contractors. Hope is in the air in Washington, Illinois.”

While volunteers have spent plenty of time cleaning up debris since the tornado, little could be done to rebuild damaged and destroyed homes after the tornado hit, since winter weather set in soon after, and there hasn’t been an extended thaw until recent weeks.

Of the 496 building permits issued so far in Washington, 200 are for total rebuilds of homes that were levelled by the tornado.