FAIRDALE (FOX 32 News) - A year later, the images are still astonishing.
Saturday marks the anniversary of the Fairdale tornado, which was a massive storm that ripped through a small community near Rockford, bringing death and destruction.
FOX 32's Dane Placko went back to Fairdale and found a community re-building, even as it still grieves.
There are now signs of life and rebirth one year after the tiny village south of Rockford was nearly wiped off the map by a massive F-4 tornado that was packing winds of up to 200 miles an hour.
Two people died, eleven were injured and more than half the buildings in town were obliterated.
Now, with the anniversary of the disaster upon them, residents like Hazel West are growing anxious.
"The anxiety's very high. I don't know how I've been getting through this week with high school,” West said. "I've been kind of isolating myself cause I don't want to down anyone because it is coming up very quickly."
Some parts of town look much as they did the day after the tornado struck. Nine families whose homes were destroyed decided to leave altogether.
But there are signs of progress. About a dozen families built brand new homes, including Don and Michelle Brown.
"We're all kind of working through it in our own way. It's nice to be back in a house and everything's new and nice. But... we kind of grieve. It's kind of like grief for our old house. We haven't made a lot of memories in this house so it doesn't feel like home yet,” Michelle said.
It’s the same story for the cline family across the street. Now, living in a brand new home, Peggy Cline has a permanent reminder of that day.
"It broke here... then I had surgery and they put a plate and twelve screws in,” Peggy said.
"It actually picked me up out of my power chair, picked me up and threw me into my wife. And I knocked her into our laundry room in the old house. And I said I might have broke your wrist, but in the meantime I think I saved your life,” Wayne Cline added.
The family's pet beagle, Jake, was killed in the storm. Three months ago, a rescue organization presented the Cline's with a new beagle pup.
"It kinda surprised me. I'm glad I got a dog that continues my late dog's name,” said Brian Cline.
On Saturday at noon, hundreds will gather at a park in Fairdale to remember what happened a year ago and to thank the scores of first responders who came to their aid.
"I'll never forget walking down that street and the people coming out and the expressions on their face,” said Lt. Carl Bruder of the Kirkland Community Fire District.
Bruder was with the first firefighting crew to arrive in Fairdale. He says amidst the tragedy, he remembers the humanity.
“Everybody came and volunteered and brought stuff and came out and worked and cleaned up afterwards. That was impressive to me... Americans coming together,” Bruder said.
Or as you see on car window decals all over Fairdale: Small Town Strong.
FOX 32: What does small town strong mean?
"It's a small town and we survived…Pretty much says it all,” West said.