The storm sirens went off Saturday night as Janet Kresl sat in the living room of her house in Dwight, watching the news. The sirens often sounded with little consequence, so she didn't think much of it.
Kresl rose to go to the kitchen but didn't have to walk three steps before she knew this time was different. As a swirling wind outside announced the arrival of a tornado, Kresl dropped to her knees. She squeezed her eyes shut and pushed her head between the back of her sofa and the living room wall, waiting two to four minutes, she estimated.
"I felt the walls falling," said Kresl, 67, a retired high school teacher.
Kresl's house in the southeast corner of Dwight was just one of many in several central Illinois communities dealt a severe blow by Mother Nature on Saturday night as a storm system cut across a swath of the state in a line from near Peoria to west of Kankakee just south of the Interstate Highway 80 corridor, leaving behind flattened homes, downed power lines, snapped tree trunks and, in one instance, a derailed train.
The National Weather Service confirmed that tornadoes touched down in Magnolia, Streator, Dwight, Buckingham and St. Anne Township, near Kankakee. As of late Sunday, no deaths or serious injuries had been reported, authorities said.
Streator Mayor Jimmie Lansford said 50 people reported minor injuries, including 17 who were taken to a hospital. All of them had been treated and released by midday. About 30 buildings had "major structural damage," he said.
"And 'major' may be completely gone," Lansford added.
Kankakee County Sheriff Tim Bukowski said Sunday that he knew of at least two homes that had been flattened in the southeast part of the county, north of St. Anne Township and east of Aroma Township. There were no injuries reported, Bukowski said.
Dwight Village President Bill Wilkey said a tornado apparently caused the derailment of a freight train about a mile west of the village, but no one was injured in that incident.
Among the hardest-hit areas was the trailer court of about 40 homes in the southwest corner of the village, Wilkey said. Fourteen people from the area were taken to a hospital, but it did not appear there were serious injuries.
"Right now, there's no loss of life anywhere, so that's a good thing," he said. "It's unbelievable, I'll tell you that … the wind could do something like this."
At the trailer park Sunday afternoon, all that remained of many trees were jagged stumps. A single door hung from the end of a tree branch, and stringy pink insulation lay strewn on the ground. Several homes lay tipped on their sides.
"All the trailers were bunched up against ours," resident Dan Villarreal said.
The previous night, Villarreal stepped outside his trailer home and looked to the sky. It was 9:18 p.m. and calm, at least for the moment. Then came the wail of a storm siren and a loud "whooshing" sound he described as the sound of "a million freight trains."
Villarreal, 43, ran back inside and told his wife to get their 11-month-old daughter, and for several terrifying moments, the mother and father hunkered down over their daughter, their bodies shielding her as windows shattered, appliances tumbled over and the entire trailer shook violently with the force of a tornado passing by.
"I just kept praying," Barbara Villarreal said. "I thought that my baby would get sucked away."
On Linden Street, a residential section of Dwight with modest single-family homes, it seemed the tornado tore its way through, leveling some homes and leaving others untouched. Randall Irvin's house fell somewhere in between. Irvin, his fiancee and his daughter watched "Jeopardy" in the basement of their newly purchased house as the storm passed.
When he emerged, there were few signs of damage to the home's interior, and he saw little damage outside until he came to his garage. The storm had ripped the garage from the side of the house and flung it eastward. The roof came to rest in the middle of a nearby street, while the rest of the structure was nowhere to be seen, Irvin said.
Two doors down, the storm left Kresl without a scratch, though her home wasn't so fortunate. The walls of the house had collapsed, and when Kresl's daughter arrived Sunday, she told her the roof somehow ended up some distance away.
On Sunday afternoon, as Kresl surveyed remains of her living room in daylight, the image seemed surreal. There were her piano, sofa and coffee table, all covered with a thick layer of gray dust, sitting out the open.
"I have no idea what I'm going to do," she said.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times