One dead, searches continue after tornadoes rip through Illinois – Chicago Tribune

Rescue crews sifted through blocks of splintered homes as residents picked up the pieces of their lives Friday morning after at least two tornadoes tore through north central Illinois on Thursday evening, flattening a farming town and leaving at least one person dead.

“We can rebuild,” said Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle, whose own home was destroyed. “We built once. We can rebuild.”

The small community of Fairdale, just south of Rockford, was the most devastated by the storm. Geraldine Schultz, 67, was killed in her home on Main Street. “She was a sweet lady,” a relative said.

Schultz was found in her home after the storms hit. “She was removed from the home by family members, and I took her from there,” DeKalb County Coroner Dennis Miller said at a news conference Friday morning.

At least 11 other people were taken to hospitals, according to Kirkland Community Fire District Chief Chad Connell. Officials are planning a news conference there for 8 a.m. Friday.

Rochelle, about 20 miles southwest of Fairdale, also was in the path of the pounding storms.

“We actually all kind of thought it was going to miss us,” said Lindsey Manning of Rochelle. “And we started getting calls from people … that tornadoes were coming our way, and we quickly went down to the basement and could feel the tornado right over our house and came up to this.

“The houses right across the street from me, you wouldn’t even be able to see,” she told a WGN-TV reporter. “Now you just see trees in the distance. I feel like it’s a bad dream, something I’d be watching on the news somewhere else, not in my neighborhood.”

Authorities were preparing for an aerial sweep of the area Friday morning to complete a third search for anyone who might be injured or trapped, VanVickle said. So far, no residents in the county have been reported missing. Thirty homes in the area had been destroyed, he said.

But Rochelle and Ogle County have not reported any fatalities. Three people were transported by ambulance to Rochelle Hospital, but their injuries were not life-threatening.

“Everybody’s safe, and things can be replaced,” VanVickle said. “That’s what’s important to us.”

The Red Cross was on scene to provide assistance, but VanVickle said no one had requested housing as of Friday morning, something he said speaks of the close-knit community.

“It’s a small, rural community, so everyone’s probably staying with a friend or with family,” VanVickle said.

In Fairdale, rescue crews were resuming their work early Friday after being in a “holding pattern” while waiting for daylight.

Speaking to reporters just after midnight, Rockford Fire Chief Matthew Knott said every home in Fairdale had been searched twice to ensure no one was missed. Every single home was affected by the storm, officials said, with some crushed down to their foundation and others left standing with no damage except broken windows.

Knott described the twister that touched down in Fairdale at 7:15 p.m. Thursday as a powerful but slow-moving tornado.

DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said several people left the area before the storm hit, so authorities were still working to locate some residents.

The National Weather Service said at the “very least” two tornadoes cut a 50-mile-wide swatch through north central Illinois. But there were likely more, based on trained storm spotters, radar and environmental evidence. The weather service was deploying three teams to the area to survey the damage and track the paths of the tornadoes. That survey could last into Saturday.

The deadly tornado left a path of destruction from near Franklin Grove in Lee County to North of Rochelle and Hillcrest into northwest DeKalb County and southern Boone County and lastly to near Harvard in McHenry County, according to the weather service. A second tornado’s path stretched from near Rockford Airport into Cherry Valley in Winnebago County and then crossed into Boone County.

Just before 7 p.m., a tornado hit a Crest Foods warehouse in Ashton, causing the roof to collapse, according to the Franklin Grove Fire Protection District.

A short time later, fire crews from multiple jurisdictions responded to Grubsteakers Restaurant near Illinois Routes 251 and 64 in Rochelle after the building reportedly was hit by a tornado.

About a dozen people were inside the restaurant, and firefighters rescued five people trapped beneath rubble about 8:30 p.m., according to Randy Travis, assistant chief of Oregon Fire Protection District.

“It’s pretty much leveled,” Travis said.

Fairdale resident Susan Meyer, 67, said she was upstairs getting ready to watch television when she saw weather reports about what was coming. But she thought the storm was going to the north. A friend called and said it looked serious, so Meyer went outside and laid down a ladder so it wouldn’t blow over.

When she went back upstairs, her home’s windows exploded behind her, she said.

“I just hunkered down. I figured I was either going to live or I was going to die, so I might as well just stay where I was,” she said.

After 30 seconds it was over, and she looked around and saw that her entire upstairs had collapsed into her living room, she said. The north wall of her home also was gone.

“It’s by the grace of God that I was in the stairwell,” she said.

Her two-story home was more than 100 years old and had just undergone a $50,000 renovation.

“It’s gone,” she said.

Another resident, Patrick Burgess, 48, also lost his home. Sitting in drenched clothes aboard the NIU bus, Burgess said hail fell before the tornado hit. He saw a cloud start to swirl.

“I looked up and seen the cloud get dark, purple, black, blue,” he said.

He and others, including an elderly woman and her grandchild, fled to his basement. Burgess said he lay on top of them as the house was shredded above. He said it was all over in a matter of seconds.

“It wasn’t nothing like I heard about on TV,” he said.

Tribune reporters Peter Nickeas and Tony Briscoe contributed.

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

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