Madison woman survives IL tornado - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Madison native rebuilding home after her family survives IL tornado


MADISON (WKOW) – Tornadoes that hit the Midwest on November 17 came too close to home for a Madison woman, whose family had just moved to Washington, IL.

Sara Ekena, nee Mueller, her husband Jeff, and their two children, two-year-old Lily and 9-month-old Carter were inside at the time, hiding under a desk in their basement when a tornado destroyed their home.

"It went from being eerily quiet to all of a sudden being really loud, almost like a train sound. And then it got louder and louder and louder," Ekena said.

Ekena, who attended Madison West and the University of Wisconsin, says there was a big crash, before their washer and dryer were lifted into the tornado, leaving a gaping hole for a large tree branch to crash through the basement ceiling and land next to where the Ekenas were seeking shelter.

"Our whole upstairs essential blew off," Ekena said.

Unconcerned about personal items, Ekena says she sat clutching her children so tightly that her daughter Lily asked her to stop "pinching her."

"The thought that continues to run through my mind is that what if this tornado had been strong enough to pull things out of our basement? Where they would be being pulled up into the storm, and that I'm not able to hold onto them," Ekena said. "That was what was going through my head: that I can't have that happen, that I can't have them taken from me this way."

The Ekenas are physically fine; however, the emotional trauma of the tornado is still fresh weeks later. Though, Ekena says the recovery process has been helped by the support of her family, friends and people in the community, including in Madison.

"It's been overwhelming to say the least. It makes me feel very blessed to have these people in our lives because we would not be doing nearly as well if it weren't for them," Ekena said.

Some of these people are Ekena's parents, Paul and Brenda Mueller, who left their home on Madison's west side within an hour when they heard about the storm.

"I actually had heart palpitations. I couldn't believe this was really happening," Brenda Mueller said after receiving a call from her daughter. "We quickly gathered some clothes, got in the car. I was just in panic mode the whole way down there."

Mueller says the road into Washington was littered with overturned 18-wheelers and cars. But what she saw when she finally arrived was nothing like she imagined.

"It's just so much worse in real life," Mueller said. "They'd just put in new carpet and the carpet was gone – just pulled up off the floor."

Ekena says she and her family plan to rebuild in the same location as their former home. This week, they moved into a basement apartment and met with a builder about plans to demolish the foundation and start again.

"There are many people who are in the same place we are, where they've found a new place to live and are starting to deal with their claims and feel like they're on the road to the next step," Ekena said. "But there are other people I know who have not been as fortunate and are still in need of a lot of support."

For more information on how you can help with the Illinois tornado relief, visit the Red Cross' website. For updates about the Ekenas, visit the Chasing Roots blog or their relief page.  

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