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Residents mark progress, look ahead after Fairdale tornado

KIRKLAND – As the anniversary of the deadly tornado that decimated Fairdale approaches, the rural DeKalb County community continues to rebuild.

Progress has been slow at times, but many residents were grateful for all that has been accomplished since the EF4 tornado struck April 9, killing two women and destroying nearly 70 structures. Residents broke out in applause several times Wednesday night during a meeting of the DeKalb County Long-Term Recovery Corp. at the Kirkland Community Fire District.

When Phil Montgomery, a member of the Franklin Township Park Board, announced that the community’s park would be finished ahead of the anniversary, everyone in the room put their hands together. Some structures at the park were damaged in the tornado, others didn’t meet safety and accessibility code requirements.

DeKalb County Long-Term Recovery Corp. Vice President Bill Nicklas used a video to highlight achievements that have been made, including nearly $1 million that has been invested in public infrastructure improvements including construction of a community septic system, WiFi service, well repairs and Nicor service.

Nicklas said that while the DeKalb County Long-Term Recovery Corp. plans to continue to help Fairdale residents as long as needed, he expects most of the group’s work to be done by the end of the year.

“We want to go out of business at some point,” Nicklas said.

The agency’s budget for the year is $256,950, far less than the $1 million in spent in 2015.

The meeting also showed that work remains to be done in Fairdale.

Plans for this year include completion of the park, which will feature a memorial bench for Jackie Klosa and Geraldine Schultz, the two women who were killed in the tornado. There are plans to install historic street lights and additional well repairs and sanitary connections that are needed. Another $15,000 has been set aside to plant trees in the community, which lost most of its mature trees in the storm.

There’s also still some clean up work that needs to be done. Of the 66 structures that were destroyed, three prominent debris piles remain. Nicklas said the DeKalb County Long-Term Recovery Corp. has been working with the property owners to address those issues.

“It’s a disincentive to new buyers and it’s painful for residents,” Nicklas said. “They have enough memories – [debris piles] are not a good way to memorialize what happened.”

For 17-year-old Fairdale resident Hazel West, who attended the meeting with her mother Danni West, news that the park would be completed for Spring was welcome.

“I was glad to hear we are going to get new equipment for the park,” she said. “I have three younger siblings and I want them to be safe.”

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