Washington versus Washington

Published November 18, 2013


An amazing thing happened on Sunday in Washington.

No, not Washington, D.C., or even Washington State (although the Seattle Seahawks did extend their NFL-best record to 10-1 with a 41-20 pasting of the Minnesota Vikings), but Washington, Illinois. It is a town of about 15,000 people, nestled just east of Peoria and a bit northeast of Pekin, Illinois, former home to the unfortunately-named “Chinks.”

Roughly mid-day on Sunday, November 17, an EF-4 tornado tore through the town of Washington, Illinois, killing one person, injuring another 120, and damaging or destroying between 250 and 500 homes and other buildings. Winds estimated at up to 170 to 190 miles per hour reportedly scattered identifiable paper debris as far as the southwest Chicago suburbs, roughly 130 miles away. While football fans in Chicago were forced to evacuate their Soldier Field seats for two hours in a storm-delayed game that the Bears eventually won in overtime over the defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore Ravens, plenty of people in Washington have no homes to which to return.

Yet there was only limited looting and no rioting, and as of yet there have been no reported rapes, no murders, no defecating in the hallways of shelters, no leaving handicapped people to die unattended. Instead, unlike in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in the City of New Orleans, citizens actually helped one another out. WLS-TV out of Chicago, for example, reported that a local grocery store helped keep customers and workers safe from harm by sheltering them in a freezer during the worst of the storm.

The Illinois National Guard has since dispatched 10 firefighters to Washington to search debris for any additional dead, and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has declared Tazewell and six surrounding counties disaster areas. But the president has yet to give a speech about it, and FEMA (thankfully) does not appear to have moved in to start handing out trailer homes. (The White House did issue a statement saying that President Obama had been briefed about the damage and was in touch with federal, state, and local officials.)

Why the difference? Could it be that people who have learned to rely on themselves instead of their government are better equipped to deal with natural disasters and adversity when they occur? Isn’t there a lesson here somewhere?