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HARRISBURG — Subtle reminders remain here, four years after sunrise ushered in a crisp, sunny morning and the start of a horrific Leap Year day.

Empty lots once occupied by family homes and their memories greet neighbors each day since the pre-dawn tornado ripped through this town of 9,100 people.

Minus those families who have rebuilt elsewhere. Minus the eight whose lives were taken Feb. 29, 2012, lives many have vowed never to forget.

“There’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about that tornado. It changed a lot of us,” said Eric Gregg, Harrisburg’s mayor at the time. “For me, it always goes back to the families who lost their loved ones.”

The victims were: Jaylynn Ferrell, 22; Lynda Hull, 74; Mary Osman, 75; R. Blaine Mauney, 74; Donna Mae Rann, 61; Randall Earl Rann, 64; Donald R. Smith, 70, and Gregory Swierk, 50.

Gregg and other community members on Monday, the four-year anniversary of the EF4 twister, will encircle a monument at the First Mid-Illinois Bank and Trust, 719 Rollie Moore Drive. The ceremony begins at noon.

Even the bank’s name serves as a quiet but lasting reminder, changed from Old National Bank sometime since 170 mph winds glanced across its façade before continuing their obliterating path of destruction, 200 yards wide and eight miles long in Harrisburg alone.

The tornado touched down at 4:51 a.m. just north of Carrier Mills, damaging a church and homes before reaching the Dorrisville neighborhood in Harrisburg five minutes later.

Jumping over U.S. 45, or Commercial Street, the tornado remained on a northeast path toward a shopping center, Walmart, an apartment complex and more homes in what is known as Gaskins City.

It then rolled on past the Harrisburg Medical Center, Southeastern Illinois College and into Ridgway as the sun began to rise, unveiling the magnitude of its assault.

Ripped from its foundation, the Brady Street Duplex, where most of those killed had resided, was gone. The shopping center was left with its steel skeleton twisted and exposed. Hospital walls and windows were ripped apart. Only the altar at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Ridgway, built in the late 1880s, was left standing.

More than 100 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Cleanup was estimated at $5.4 million, with a $13 million pledge from then-Gov. Pat Quinn in relief funding after the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared the damage did not meet its $17.3 million threshold for assistance.

Most structures have been rebuilt. Some not. Each day since, Dale Fowler, the city’s current mayor, walks out of his home, also damaged by the tornado, reminded of the devastation by empty lots neighboring his.

He and his family made their way to the first floor as the city was warned to seek cover, glass shattering upstairs. For a few brief seconds there was silence.

“Then all of a sudden you started hearing screams throughout the neighborhood,” recalled Fowler, left speechless upon witnessing the damage shortly after.

But something else left him, Gregg and Harrisburg Medical Center CEO Rodney Smith in awe: The number of strangers, from mine rescue teams to strangers across Southern Illinois and beyond, descending on the area to help.

By the time Smith arrived at work, having seen a section of the hospital’s exterior wall torn away, staff had already begun relocating patients in anticipation of the avalanche of injured that would soon arrive.

“It was a real sense of community, a family taking care of each other,” Smith said. “I have never felt the sense of community like I did in this community when people were helping each other -- and not just this community, but all the communities of people who came in to help, and that’s the fabric of Southern Illinois.”

A year after the tornado, about 80 percent of structures had been replaced with new homes and businesses. Meanwhile, Harrisburg continues to expand, with about $256 million in new construction since Jan. 1, Fowler said.

In Ridgway, the new St. Kaeteri Parish emerged in place of St. Joseph’s, its altar still in use including the first mass held at the church on Dec. 6.

It is in God that Patty Ferrell finds comfort after losing her daughter, Jaylynn, who was a nurse at Harrisburg Medical Center, in the tornado.

“I had a peace because I knew that no matter what happened that day that God was with Jaylynn,” she said. “It was remarkable how total strangers came out to help.”

It is with that knowledge that Ferrell looks toward the future and the reminder that a community will come together in the face of disaster.

And, perhaps, it is not so subtle a reminder, after all.