Tornado kills 1 person, destroys homes in tiny Illinois town

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:

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 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 from severely damaged homes and other buildings lays strewn across roads. Some in the rural farming village were barely standing and many have shifted off their foundations. Roofs are missing. Metal siding from barns is wrapped around trees.

Matt Friedlein, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said Friday that 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.

Kirkland Community Fire District Chief Chad Connell said he watched the tornado move toward Fairdale from his porch.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in my life,” he said.

Some 20 additional homes were severely damaged or destroyed in Ogle County, adjacent to DeKalb, Sheriff Brian VanVickle said, adding no deaths or significant injuries were reported there.

VanVickle 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.”

The severe weather, the region’s first widespread bout, forced the cancellation of more than 850 flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Thursday and dozens of others at the city’s Midway International Airport. The outlook was much improved Friday, although about 90 flights at the city’s two airports were cancelled and dozens of delays were expected.

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