Washington tornado hits home for District 158 superintendent

HUNTLEY – District 158 Superintendent John Burkey had the TV ready for the Bears game Sunday, when he first saw news that a tornado ripped through his hometown of Washington.

Burkey immediately felt shock as he learned that the tornado, with winds between 170 and 190 miles per hour, destroyed his old house and surrounding Washington neighborhoods in the Tazewell County community, near Peoria.

In the moments that followed, Burkey called and texted friends from his Washington Community High School days to learn that some had their homes destroyed or damaged. None of his friends were severely injured.

“It destroyed whole neighborhoods in Washington,” Burkey said. “It was tragic to see. Thankfully, everyone I know of is physically OK.”

Meteorologists from the National Weather Service on Monday gave the Washington tornado a preliminary EF-4 rating, the second most violent rating on the enhanced Fujita scale.

The storm killed one Washington resident, injured more than 60 others and displaced hundreds in the community of about 16,000 people.

Burkey, who no longer has family in Washington, said he already has donated to the numerous relief organizations assisting residents affected by the tornado.

He moved from Peoria to Washington during middle school, graduated high school there and often returned during breaks as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

He permanently returned to the area in the late 1990s as a principal for Dunlap Middle School near Peoria.

He later would become an assistant superintendent at the Dunlap school district before moving to Huntley in 2006 to become District 158’s top administrator.

Burkey said he plans to keep in touch with friends from Washington, as residents there begin the long recovery effort.

“Tornadoes touched a lot of communities in the state,” he said. “It’s just tragic, but fortunately it seems the loss of life was little.”