A violent storm system that threw off one or more tornadoes left a trail of damage Thursday night across at least a 50-mile swath of north central Illinois, according to the National Weather Service.
Tornadoes were reported on either side of Interstate 39 near Rochelle Ill., as the storm blew on a northeast track across farms and small towns and headed toward McHenry County. The tiny hamlet of Fairdale, Ill., south of Rockford, was particularly hard hit, according to preliminary reports.
"Fairdale is pretty well destroyed, from what I understand," said Les Bellah, president of nearby Kirkland, Ill. "They're taking our backhoes and whatever generators and whatever equipment we got over there to assist them. Our fire department is there now on scene as well."
National Weather Service Meteorologist Gino Izzi said a tornado or a series of tornadoes moved northeast from an area west of Rochelle and then toward into southeast McHenry County, just west or north of Marengo.
"Preliminary indications based on radar data would suggest a path of 50 miles of intermittent tornado damage, potentially a single track or a couple of tracks, and there have been reports of more significant damage," Izzi said.
The storms led Gov. Bruce Rauner activated the State Incident Response Center (SIRC) in Springfield to ensure state personnel and equipment are ready to be deployed
Just before 7 p.m., a tornado hit a Kraft Foods warehouse in Franklin Grove, Ill., 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 Route 251 and 64 in Rochelle, Ill., after the building was hit by a reported tornado. Firefighters rescued five people trapped beneath rubble at about 8:30 p.m., according to Randy Travis, assistant chief of Oregon Fire Protection District.
"It's pretty much leveled," Travis said of the restaurant.
The extent of any injuries from the storm was not known.
Several homes in the Rochelle area were also seriously damaged, including that of Ogle County Sheriff Brian E. VanVickle, Travis said.
An Ogle County sheriff's dispatcher who declined to give her name due to department policy said there was widespread damage in the area but no immediate reports of injuries when a tornado swept across the town of Hillcrest, about 80 miles west of Chicago.
The Rockford Fire Department sent its 20 member technical response team to Fairdale, Fire Chief Dan Bergsten said.
"They've been put to work right away. They did find one (person) already. They're working with command, doing a coordinated search, ruling out homes, trying to find survivors and if there's anyone trapped," Bergsten said.
The person was alive when removed from a building, Bergsten said.
The weather confirmed a tornado touched down Thursday evening near Cherry Valley. Another tornado was spotted moments later near Ashton, south of Rockford. The weather service characterized the tornado as "large and extremely dangerous."
An hour or so after the storms hit central Illinois, most of the activity was in the far northwest suburbs across McHenry County, said Kevin Birk, a meteorologist with the weather service.
"We have a tornado potentially on the ground still between Harvard and Woodstock and that is moving to the Northeast," said Kevin Birk, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service.
As of 8 p.m., there were no tornado warnings currently for Lake, Cook, DuPage and Kane counties, Birk said.
A tornado watch remained in effect for 42 Illinois counties, including the entire Chicago area, until 11 p.m.
The weather service will be doing damage assessments Friday to inspect possible touchdown locations, paths of travel, damage and other information.
The tornadoes came at the end of a day of heavy weather. An earlier storm brought winds of 35 mph and heavy rainfall to the Chicago area. Doppler radar showed the storm rolling over the Chicago area about 3 p.m., according to the weather service.
More than 700 flights were canceled Thursday at Chicago's airports, and more than 1,400 were experiencing delays.
The weather service also issued a flood warning for the Des Plaines River at Riverside from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening. Minor flooding is forecast for Friday evening and expected to subside by Saturday afternoon, according to the warning.
National Weather Service meteorologists in Lincolnville, Ill., reported the touchdown of a weak tornado just north of Peoria around 2:30 p.m., Birk said.
Tornadoes were reported Wednesday and early Thursday in Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma, but those areas saw minimal damage.