- Associated Press - Thursday, August 13, 2015

COAL CITY, Ill. (AP) - A new school year will begin Friday in Coal City as the area continues to deal with the repercussions of a tornado that swept through two months ago, leaving hundreds of students displaced from their homes.

Regardless, Coal City school officials are confident they’ll be prepared when the doors open. Kent Bugg, superintendent of Coal City Community Unit School District No. 1, has been working to restore normalcy for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We certainly have our challenges, but we’ll be ready,” said Bugg, whose family is among dozens living in temporary housing in Coal City.

On June 22, the violent storm down in the region with an EF3 tornado touched carrying winds of up to 160 mph, according to the National Weather Service. A quarter-mile-wide path of destruction was left in the twister’s path, leading to $13 million in cleanup costs.

But the community is lucky because the tornado barely touched the middle school and high school buildings, Bugg said. His biggest concern is coordinating transportation for students who are now scattered across 16 communities, from Morris to Kankakee, the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/1KiZIrT ) reported.

The homes of about 282 of the district’s 2,150 students were damaged by the storm and have either been boarded up with plywood or demolished. Under federal law, those displaced students are considered homeless and are entitled to free bus service to school.

“It would be nice to get some money from the state of Illinois, but we’re not holding our breath,” Bugg said. “So, we’ll just have to get these kids to school - and figure out where to cut elsewhere.”

To serve the displaced students, officials plan to send school district vans to communities where large numbers of students are staying, partner with other districts, and rely on parents, who will be compensation for driving expenses, Bugg said.

After the storm, Gov. Bruce Rauner declared Lee and Grundy counties, where Coal City is located, a disaster area. But the communities are still waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assess need and determine aid before the state can respond with its own resources, said Matt Fritz, Coal City village administrator.

More than 880 homes sustained major damage in the storm, and 54 homes were stripped all the way down to their foundations, he said.

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Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

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