A band of storms early Friday stopped volunteers and residents from cleaning up for a few hours, and a noontime tornado warning siren sent many, fearful of another hit, huddled into homes and businesses. But by the afternoon the sun was shining, and residents began talking about what comes next.
As more deadly tornadoes struck elsewhere across the region, the Saline County coroner's office identified Greg Swierk, 50, as the sixth fatality in the storm that hit Harrisburg on Wednesday. Swierk's family could not be reached for comment.
On Friday, utility crews cleared roadways and installed new power lines, and American Red Cross volunteers surveyed demolished neighborhoods — a maze of snapped utility poles, exposed foundations and haphazard piles of bricks — to evaluate the needs of the town's residents.
"We have seen incredible destruction, a lot of grief for the victims and the families of the victims, but we've also seen a lot of resilience and community spirit," said Red Cross spokeswoman Vicki Eichstaedt.
"I don't know that I've ever been prouder to be a member of a community," said Pastor David Higgs of Dorrisville Baptist Church. "For us, our faith in Christ is vindicated, is proven."
Despite the community support, many said they were mindful of the daunting prospect of rebuilding in the weeks and months ahead.
The National Weather Service said more than 200 homes and about 25 businesses were destroyed or badly damaged in Harrisburg, a the city of about 9,000 that is about 320 miles south of Chicago.
Karen Alexander, 37, who lost her home, said she's been too overwhelmed to decide if she'll rebuild or move to another town.
"I just don't know what to think," she said, standing among the remnants of her home, its roof peeled off and its front leaning precariously toward the street. "It's mind-numbing."
Pati Loehr, 56, said she's worried about how people who lost their homes or loved ones will cope once the initial shock of the disaster fades away.
"That's the scary part," said Loehr, who volunteers with the Red Cross. "Where do they go from here?"
Some residents said they were optimistic that Harrisburg, which has endured devastating floods in recent years, would recover from the storm.
"We rebuild and we go on," said Jane Russell, who lives on Brady Street, where five people died. "I've already talked to my landlord and I told him when he (fixes the home), I'm moving back. That's what you do. You just pick up and go on."
Still, for Alexander and much of the rest of the city, "life's never going to be the same."
"Everything you did every day is going to be different," she said.
Tribune reporter Dawn Rhodes contributed.