Tornado kills 1 person, destroys homes in tiny Illinois town
FAIRDALE, Ill. (AP) – Crews searched for missing residents Friday morning after at least one tornado brought chaos to a tiny northern Illinois town, killing one person, injuring roughly a dozen more and sweeping homes off their foundations, as a large storm system rumbled across much of the country.
One woman was killed and about 11 others were taken to hospitals after at least one twister hit Fairdale around 7 p.m. Thursday. Crews combed through each structure twice and were gearing up for a third search with equipment and by hand Friday morning.
Police and fire officials said at a Friday morning news conference that they weren’t sure how many people were still unaccounted for in the community of roughly 150 people.
“We’re hoping our search will be fruitless, in the sense that we won’t find anybody,” Sycamore Fire Chief Peter Polarek said.
The deceased was identified Friday as 67-year-old Geraldine M. Schultz. Authorities said those hospitalized did not have life-threatening injuries.
About 15 to 20 homes were destroyed in Fairdale, according to DeKalb County Sheriff Roger A. Scott. Matthew Knott, division chief for the Rockford Fire Department, told The Associated Press that just about every building in the town about 80 miles northwest of Chicago “sustained damage of some sort.”
All homes were evacuated as a safety precaution and power was out across the area. The Red Cross and Salvation Army established a shelter at a local high school.
Trees, power lines and debris lay strewn on the ground. Some homes in the rural farming village were barely standing and many had shifted from their foundations. Roofs were missing. Metal siding from barns was wrapped around trees.
Residents gathered at a road block a mile from town Friday morning, eager to check the damage to their homes. Police, though, refused entry saying it was too dangerous.
Resident Al Zammuto, a 60-year-old machinist, said he and other residents received cellphone alerts at 6:45 p.m., but he dismissed it as previous warnings hadn’t amounted to anything.
Then his windows exploded.
He took cover as the severe weather struck. Bricks were torn off the side of his home. Minutes later he stepped outside and couldn’t believe his eyes. He said the town looked trashed “looked like a landfill” and the sounds were haunting.
“People were screaming and yelling,” he said. “People were in total shock.”
National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Friedlein said at least two tornadoes swept through six north-central Illinois counties, and that damage survey teams would visit the area to determine how long they stayed on the ground, their strength and the extent of the damage.
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner was traveling Friday morning to survey damage in the region, county authorities said.
After raking Illinois, Thursday’s storm and cold front headed northeast, dumping snow in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and sweeping across the Ohio Valley overnight, Friedlein said. The system was headed into the Appalachian region Friday morning with the potential for severe thunderstorms but “not anywhere near the threat” that it packed in the Midwest, he said.
Roughly 30 homes were damaged or destroyed in Ogle County, adjacent to DeKalb, Sheriff Brian VanVickle said, adding no deaths or significant injuries were reported there. He said 12 people were trapped in the storm cellar beneath a restaurant that collapsed in the storm in Rochelle, about 20 miles southwest of Fairdale.
One of those rescued from the Grubsteakers restaurant, Raymond Kramer, 81, told Chicago’s WLS-TV they were trapped for 90 minutes before emergency crews were able to rescue them, unscathed.
“No sooner did we get down there, when it hit the building and laid a whole metal wall on top of the doors where we went into the storm cellar,” Kramer said. “When the tornado hit, we all got a dust bath. Everyone in there got shattered with dust and debris falling out of the rafters.”
Associated Press writer Sara Burnett in Fairdale, and Herb McCann, Don Babwin, Tammy Webber and Sophia Tareen in Chicago contributed to this report.