Two people were killed in a violent tornado that cut a destructive swath through rural Illinois on Thursday, flattening dozens of homes, Gov. Bruce Rauner confirmed.
The tornado severely damaged or destroyed at least 100 buildings in two counties, and sent 20 people to the hospital, Rauner and local sheriff’s officials said.
One of the victims, 67-year-old Geraldine Schultz, was found dead Thursday night in her home, which had been completely destroyed, DeKalb County Coroner Dennis J. Miller said. The second victim, 69-year-old Jacklyn K. Klosa, was found Friday morning in her shower, where she sought shelter from the storm.
Both lived in Fairdale, a community of 200 people that was devastated by the twister, which pummeled the town with 180- to 200-mph winds.
“We have obviously suffered severe tragedy here,” said Rauner, who was surveying damage in the region Friday morning, at a news conference.
Another person was “severely injured” and in serious condition at a hospital, Rauner said. Officials say they believe all others have been accounted for.
Search and rescue crews spent much of Friday slowly sifting through the rubble, conducting their third sweep of the area's buildings in the daylight. By afternoon, cadaver dogs had been brought in to continue the search.
“We hope and pray that that is all the fatalities,” Rauner told reporters. “We’ve not heard of any other missing persons, and we believe that we now know the extent of this terrible loss.”
The National Weather Service classified the storm as an EF4, meaning it packed enough power to level well-constructed homes and send cars flying. At some points, the agency said, the twister cut a half-mile path of destruction through the countryside. EF4 tornadoes are known to cause "devastating damage"; EF5 tornadoes, the highest rating on the Fujita scale, are known for winds in excess of 200 mph.
About 17 to 20 homes were completely leveled in Fairdale, according to Kirkland Community Fire Chief Chad Connell. About 60 of the town's 71 buildings are now ‘unlivable,’ Connell told The Times in an email.
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."
An additional 49 homes were damaged in neighboring Ogle County, according to Sheriff Brian VanVickle, who estimated that the tornado plowed a path about a quarter-mile wide through the county. No deaths or major injuries were reported there, VanVickle said, but 30 of those homes, including his own, were destroyed.
"I got there in the morning at 5 o'clock to see my house was gone," VanVickle told reporters. "It's what I was told and what I expected."
All residents in the area were evacuated from their homes as a precaution, and power and gas remained out across the region, officials said. Only residents were being allowed into the area, VanVickle said, and volunteers were asked to hold off for at least 24 hours as rescuers sifted through mountains of debris and utility workers rushed to finish checking for downed power lines and gas leaks.
Trees, power lines, and mountains of debris from flattened homes and other buildings were strewn across roads, the Associated Press reported. Roofs were missing and metal siding from barns was wrapped around trees.
The Red Cross had set up a shelter at a local high school, but only a handful of residents stayed there overnight, Rauner told reporters, leading officials to believe most had found shelter with nearby friends and family.
Many credited the low death toll to advance weather alerts, which were broadcast on TV and radio emergency systems, and sent out to mobile phones across the counties as early as 30 minutes before the twister hit. It appears most residents were able to leave or seek shelter, officials said. "From that standpoint, I don't think you could ask for any better advance warning," VanVickle said Friday.
At least two tornadoes touched down in north-central Illinois, according to the National Weather Service, cutting across six counties in the region.
The storm wound through sparsely populated towns in north-central Illinois, just missing Rockford, Ill., the state’s third most populous city.
“To me, that seems like a lucky break,” Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center told The Times. “We would have been dealing with a much different situation if it had moved into the densely populated areas of Rockford.”
Connell said he watched the tornado move toward Fairdale from his porch.
"I've never seen anything like it in my life," he told the AP.
Only two buildings were damaged in the nearby town of Rochelle, according to Lee County Sheriff John Simonton, and no major injuries and deaths have been reported. “We had very few injuries, just some bumps and bruises,” Simonton told The Times on Friday. “It kind of went right around the town and around the north side of it, then it started to cut its swath.”
Simonton said 12 people were trapped in the basement of a restaurant just north of Rochelle after the building collapsed in the storm. They fled to the basement when they heard the tornado sirens, Simonton said. “Had they not done that, I couldn’t imagine what would have happened,” he told The Times.
It took rescuers more than an hour to dig them out, Simonton said, but no one was injured.
Raymond Kramer, 81, told Chicago's WLS-TV they were trapped for 90 minutes before emergency crews were able to rescue them.
"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."
The severe weather brought air travel in the region to a near-standstill Thursday, with more than 900 flight cancellations in and out of Chicago O’Hare International Airport and dozens of others at the city's Midway International Airport, according to flight tracking site FlightAware.com. By Friday, the situation had improved – with 93 flight cancellations and dozens of delays at both airports as of noon, the website said.