After the storm: Washington, Ill.

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One year ago families and homes were ripped apart by a tornado in Washington, lll.  Then, a football team gave the town hope to move forward.  Today, it's a community that's still “Washington Strong.”

November 16, 2013 the Washington Panthers football team was on a historic playoff run, making it to the semifinals for the first time since 1985.  They beat University High School in the quarterfinals 41-7.

“We're all just celebrating, happy as can be, and then everything sort of just changed with the snap of a finger,” described linebacker Kevin Scott.

The next day, an EF-4 tornado roared through the small town.  Hundreds of homes destroyed, three died, countless memories gone or scattered.

“It got back to us from Winona, Ill. in April of this year, so it sat in a farmers field for the entire winter, made its way back to us through somebody posting it and somebody seeing it and goes, 'Oh my gosh, that's the Brownfields,'” said tornado victim Kim Brownfield.  The Brownfields were one of six families on the team to have their home damaged or destroyed by the tornado.

“You could hear every wall, every board,” she described of that unforgettable morning.  “It was so loud… the pressure in our ears was like 100 times what you hear in a plane… it seemed like it took forever to go through the house.”

In just 14 seconds almost everything they owned: gone.

“We're very, very grateful that we have our family, but it's so difficult when you lose everything,” Brownfield said fighting back tears.  “It just seems so strange to not be more grateful, because i am grateful, but yet, everything that you work for for so many years is just gone in seconds, it's just gone, and that's just really hard to get past.”

But as families sifted through debris they started to gain hope because suddenly a story about a town torn up by a tornado became a story about a team.

“It gave them a chance to get away from everything that was going on,” explained head football coach Darrell Crouch.  “You're used to coming out on Friday or Saturday every night and watching games, it's kind of a sense of normalcy.”

But now life was about establishing a new normal.  Football was an escape, reality was waiting right where they left it.

Like the Brownfields, the Scotts move forward.

“We've talked about it,” said Julie Scott, Kevin's mom.  “We think it's going to be a difficult transition to move into that new house even though it's new, it's not the house we built 16 years ago.”

Since November the Scotts have lived in four different places, from staying with friends and family to spending nights in hotel rooms to this apartment complex.

“It was just strange not to be able to call anywhere home,” Kevin said.

The family stores receipts in binders to submit to insurance.  They were able to save some things but not without nicks and scratches.  They're part of a neighborhood that's still rebuilding.  Some families are getting back in their homes, as they try to remember the way things once were and remain the team they've always been.

The Brownfields are hoping to move into their new home this weekend and fingers crossed, be ready to host Christmas at their house.  The Scotts will spend the holidays with relatives.

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