ROCHELLE, Ill. (AP) — At least one large tornado touched down Thursday night in northern Illinois, killing one person and injuring seven others in one tiny community as severe weather pummeled the Midwest.
One person was killed in the tiny community of Fairdale, James Joseph with the Illinois Department of Emergency Management said.
Rockford Fire Department division chief Matthew Knott told ABC7-TV that at least seven people were injured. Knott says “every single” one of the approximately 50 structures in Fairdale has been damaged, and that “most” had been flattened.
He said emergency personnel were going house to house, sorting through debris and looking for other victims.
The National Weather Service tweeted around 7 p.m. that a tornado was on the ground in nearby Rochelle and urged residents to seek shelter immediately.
Robin Biggs, an employee at the Super 8 motel in Rochelle, which is about 80 miles west of Chicago, said she took video of the storm, which she said “took everything out in its path.”
“I have lived her 18 years and I have never seen a tornado that big or stay on the ground that long. … This just stayed down and went all the way across the horizon,” she said.
Ogle County Sheriff Brian Van Vickle said in a news conference that about 20 homes there were severely damaged or destroyed, but no deaths or significant injuries were reported.
Van Vickle said 12 people were trapped in the basement of Grubsteakers, a Rochelle restaurant that collapsed during the storm.
One of those rescued from the restaurant, Raymond Kramer, 81, told Chicago’s WLS-TV that he was trapped with 11 others in the storm cellar for 90 minutes. They were freed only after emergency crews removed debris that had fallen over them. He said none of those rescued was injured.
Kramer said he and his wife pulled over at Grubsteakers just moments before the tornado struck. He said he was taking photos of the storm from the doorway when the restaurant owner ordered everyone into the storm cellar.
“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.”
Around 9:30 p.m., the Weather Service said it could not confirm how many tornadoes struck the area but said one long-tracked storm moved across multiple counties, sporadically touching down and causing damage.
Winnebago County Sheriff’s spokesman Ken DeCoster said funnel clouds also were spotted near Rockford, a few miles north, but did not touch down.
The system, packing hail and damaging winds, was headed east as storms rumbled through the Midwest and Plains during the region’s first widespread bout of severe weather.
The severe weather forced the cancellation of more than 850 flights at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and dozens of others at the city’s Midway International Airport.
The Weather Service in Davenport, Iowa, said it had received multiple reports of tornadoes in Scott and Clinton counties in the far eastern part of the state. At least one tornado had touched down earlier Thursday evening in rural Donahue, about 15 miles north of Davenport. The Weather Service had no reports of injuries from those storms.
Minor injuries were reported Thursday in central Missouri when storms toppled trees, utility poles and billboards.
The National Weather Service’s “enhanced risk” area stretched from northeast Texas to Michigan, Wisconsin and across the upper Midwest. Forecasters say Philadelphia, Washington and other parts of the Atlantic coast could see the same weather patterns Friday, including Augusta, Georgia, where the Masters golf tournament is taking place through the weekend.
“It’s quite an expansive area,” said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.