When the Gong Rings

A Fire History of Charleston, Illinois








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          I can remember my dad telling about what a disaster he and his crew drove into the morning of Dec. 15, 1971. As dawn broke on Decker Springs Mobile Home Park (north and west of the Coles County Fair Grounds, just off Rte. 316) Charleston Fire Department found trailer after trailer turned over or completely torn apart. Water was spraying from broken lines, eerie street lights still shined because they were fed off underground electrical cables, but most of all, there was still a cloud of dirt and broken glass blowing around. As emergency services arrived from Charleston Police and Fire first, then other agencies were called in including Civil Defense, American Red Cross, Salvation Army as well as several volunteers from the park itself.



Charleston Memorial Hospital treated some


. . . 43 victims from all of the tornadoes (thought there was three in all) from the area.  One victim from Decker Springs Trailer Park was admitted. Bushton also had tornado damage and a family from there, were treated. Most were released with bruises and abrasions, cuts, with some cuts requiring stitches. Witnesses at Decker Springs described the tornado:  An EIU student who lived with three other men told of it, "I was still in bed when I heard Stan in the hallway. The trailer had just fallen off the jack, but I wasn't worried because it had done the same thing last week. Then I heard my two roommates get up. They said later that they looked out the front window and saw tin and siding flying all over the place. They almost decided to get out of the trailer and go to the car, but then thought about getting trapped outside. They had no sooner got the door shut when the trailer flipped. I hit the floor and found my bed on top of me.     

       At first I thought I was dreaming, but the pounding on the trailer and the rain on my face woke me up. It was coming through a big hole in my wall. I ran out in my underwear through the hole to hide in the car. As I was running, I heard people screaming over the wind, and I went to my neighbor's trailer instead of the car. I can't remember his name but he very gallantly went over and got my roommates out when I told him they were still trapped inside the trailer. The four boys returned to Decker Springs later in the afternoon from a friend's house in Mattoon to search for their belongings. "We couldn't recognize anything," he said . "Our trailer was a total loss. Everything was ruined. Our clothes were all torn and soaking wet, and we'd be running around naked now if it hadn't been for the Red Cross giving us sweatsuits at the hospital." Their bed had four posts and punched four neat holes in the closed doors in the bedroom. Their trailer ended up on top of a car. Other residents in trailers told stories of people running out of trailers trying to escape. The noise of the tornado was : like you hear under a bridge when a freight train goes over."



       Hidalgo had 12 of its homes hit.   Bushton, Hazel Dell and Hindsboro and other areas received damaging rains, such as Arcola and the USI plant.   Businesses damaged by the  tornadoes were: Decker's Hog Market on S. Rte 130, and Moore Farm Buildings, west of Charleston.