WEST LIBERTY — In most towns this time of year, there's nothing unusual about scores of children gleefully searching a field for Easter eggs.
But this is Morgan County, where a tornado killed six people March 2 and largely destroyed West Liberty, the county seat. Old Mill Park, where the annual Easter egg hunt is held, was damaged by the storm and filled with debris from the hillside across the Licking River. And an unknown number of local children were displaced to live with family or friends in other counties after losing their homes.
Those are all the more reasons for the egg hunt to proceed as usual, said the Kiwanis Club of West Liberty, which organized Saturday's event.
"You want to keep things as normal as you can for the kids, given all that's going on right now," Kiwanis Club member Hubert Wright said while seeding the park's grass with multi-colored plastic eggs.
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Wright gestured toward a dump truck lumbering past, weighed down with rubble from the ruined downtown a block away. Government offices and some businesses temporarily relocated to trailers and tents. Other local institutions might be gone for good.
"I'm glad we were able to get the park cleared in time," Wright said. "There were a lot of pieces from the hospital that landed here. The tornado came over that hill right over there."
The Kiwanis Club's traditional pancake breakfast that precedes the egg hunt was moved to the park Saturday from its usual home at West Liberty Christian Church, which the tornado demolished.
After breakfast, volunteers scattered 2,000 eggs, some containing surprises, around the park. Donors provided 150 Easter baskets loaded with toys and candy, making every child who arrived a winner.
The role (and costume) of the Easter bunny was filled by 10-year-old Aidan Morgan, a fifth-grader at Morgan Central Elementary School and the son of Brenda Morgan, chief organizer of the egg hunt. It was Aidan's third year in the big, fuzzy feet.
"I've been doing it since I was tall enough," Aidan said as she greeted smaller children and handed out candy.
Rebecca Johnson brought her foster daughters, Chelsie, 5, and Leslie, 6. Both of the girls wore colorful spring dresses. The family lives outside West Liberty in the Crockett community.
"We wanted to show our support for the town. It's been through a lot," Rebecca Johnson said.
"Everything's gone in our town," said Leslie.
"Yes, it is," Rebecca told her. "But we're going to rebuild, won't we?"
The egg hunt always kicks off West Liberty's outdoor events season, said Morgan County Judge-Executive Tim Conley, who emceed it. Logistics remain to be worked out, but citizens should count on seeing the usual events this year, including the Bluegrass music festival and the sorghum festival, Conley said.
"We want everyone to know that life goes on," Conley said.