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Coal City, Diamond, southwest suburbs hit hard by storms

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Updated: December 19, 2013 6:26AM



There were prayers and scares, minor injuries and major damage to buildings.

Roofs were torn from houses, garages blew down — at least one barn, too — and people were trapped in a church, unable to leave while waiting for a tornado to pass.

Storms that swept through Illinois on Sunday did not spare areas southwest of Joliet nor the southwest suburbs. Hardest hit were Coal City, Diamond and parts of Manhattan Township.

“It’s devastating. I don’t know where you begin,” said Ronda Brewer, who lives in Diamond Estates, a subdivision south of Route 113 off of Berta Road.

About 60 to 70 houses there were damaged by the tornado, said Morris Fire Chief Tracey Steffes, whose department was helping out with storm duty.

Numerous buildings were damaged in eastern and central Grundy County. The storm had less of an impact in the nearer southwest suburbs, but even there, fences were knocked down, traffic lights were out and tree limbs were felled in some neighborhoods, while others escaped unscathed.

Five deaths were reported in Illinois as of about 8 p.m., according to The Associated Press, but none in the Joliet area or the Southland.

In heavily damaged Diamond, the Rev. Bryan Thompson said about 30 to 40 parishioners from Christian Life Assembly Church huddled together in a room with no windows to wait out the tornado, which struck shortly after the church’s second service ended at noon.

“We just got in there and got close and started praying,” he said.

The church’s garage was demolished, the roof was damaged and a $30,000 digital sign installed just a few months ago was seriously damaged. The steel sanctuary building was bent, too, he said.

A tobacco shop, RV sales business, a restaurant, a garden center and a gas station — all on Route 113 just west of Interstate 55 — all were damaged.

Paul Collins said the tornado sirens went off twice before the tornado hit. One woman walking in front of the church was pulled inside shortly before the storm struck, he said.

“We ran out and grabbed her and pulled her inside,” he said. “She was trying to run home and she was right in the path of the tornado. We told her, ‘It’s going to be OK’ and we prayed for her and her family.”

Collins said they could hear the roof pick up and the building creak.

Carrie Feddeler of Mazon, who works at a fast-food restaurant on Route 113, said she saw the tornado touch down and lift up and then touch down again.

“As it was coming we saw the debris start to fly up,” she said.

In Diamond Estates, Dan Cassani’s home at 915 Laura Lane suffered serious damage. Several hours after the tornado hit, he and his friends and family were loading furniture and personal possessions into trailers, cars and vans for storage in the homes of relatives and neighbors.

“We heard the house crack and then felt pressure and our ears popped,” he said.

Brewer, who lives nearby on Crystal Lane, said she was in her basement, too, when the storm hit.

“It was an eerie quiet,” she said.

Brewer couldn’t believe the damage to her neighborhood.

“It’s just amazing how something can be here and gone in a matter of seconds,” she said.

About 70 to 100 buildings were damaged by the storm, said Jim Lutz, director of the Grundy County Emergency Management Agency.

Three people were transported to Morris Hospital. Two others drove themselves to the hospital, he said.

The United Methodist Church in Coal City and the Red Cross were establishing shelters for residents affected by storm. Coal City schools will be closed on Monday, because its bus dispatch center was hit by the tornado and power lines still were down in the area, officials said.

“We’ll be doing damage assessment in the morning,” Lutz said.

About 50,000 people in the region were without power, he said.

Coal City firefighter Nick Doerfler confirmed buildings were knocked down by the storm there as well.

“There’s extensive damage,” he said.

Will County emergency management agency spokesman Chuck Pelkie said two sheriff deputies spotted a funnel cloud west of Interstate 55 near Braidwood and Wilmington. That area, he said Sunday afternoon, “is a mess.”

Wires were down, and trees and debris were blocking the highway.

“People need to proceed with caution or find alternate routes,” Pelkie said.

The Chrome Rack bar and Assembly of God church in Diamond also suffered significant damage, Pelkie said. An unknown number of people were trapped in the church at one point, he said, but they were rescued and only minor injuries were reported. A gas and propane leak in the area was also under control.

Seven houses around the 13000 block of Bruns Road in Manhattan suffered major damage, Pelkie said, but only minor injuries were reported.

The Red Cross and The Salvation Army were expected to visit the area.

Cheryl Allen, who lives in Manhattan Township, said she usually does not go down to the basement when there are storm warnings, but Sunday she was grateful she had.

“All of a sudden,” she said, there were sounds of breaking glass and splintering wood.

“It seemed like an eternity, but it was probably only a minute or two” before the tornado had passed through, she said.

The stretch of Bruns Road is between Kankakee Street and Schoolhouse Road. The tornado touched down, “sounding like a turbo-charger,” said Allen’s son, Jim Allen Jr.

The Allens said their barn blew down, along with their attached garage.

“The walls on the east side of the house are ripped off, the roof and ceiling are gone,” said her husband, Jim Allen, who remained upstairs and saw the garage get blown away. “We have to be grateful no one was hurt. All the animals are safe.”

Emergency crews were evacuating families from the area, due to downed power lines. ComEd crews were on site, while winds continued to howl. Debris could be seen up and down the street and through the yards.

Greg and Beth Gordon said they were not home at the time and were only able to see their house from a distance, because the area was considered dangerous.

Mobile homes near Stuenkel Road east of Harlem also sustained some roof damage from the wind.

Frankfort police Chief John Burica reported at 1:15 p.m. that roads were blocked off on Sauk Trail near Pfeiffer Road and on U.S. 45 south of Steger Road, where tree limbs knocked down power lines.

No injuries, flooding or major damage were immediately reported there, however.

“For the size of the storm, we’re in good shape,” Burica said.

Frankfort Mayor Jim Holland said the Frankfort Fire Protection District station in Green Garden Township reported the tornado but he was not aware of any major damage or any major power outages.

“We were lucky. This storm certainly had the potential (to do some serious damage),” Holland said.

At the Brookside Marketplace shopping center at 191st Street and Harlem Avenue in Tinley Park, the power was out along the outer drive, with stores including Best Buy, Kohl’s and T.J. Maxx closing early.

In Frankfort Square, Mike Saineghi and Claire Chaplinski had huddled with their dog, Sirius, in the bathroom of their home on Hawthorne Lane when the worst of the storm hit.

“I heard really loud wind and a lot of rain,” Chaplinski said.

Sirius slept through the storm, and the couple emerged from the bathroom after about 50 minutes to find most of the fence in their back yard, facing North Street. Their home is rented, and they informed their landlord about the damage.

To the west of them, neighbors Larry Worley and Terry Cullen also surveyed damage in the rear yards of their homes, which mainly consisted of sections of wood fence that had been uprooted by the wind. One portion of Worley’s fence sailed north across North Street, into the yard of another home. Some homes nearby had tree limbs down and sections of siding and roofing damaged when winds hit in the early afternoon.

Worley said that severe weather sirens sounded “quite a while before the storm picked up,” and he and two other family members took shelter in the basement of their home, also on Hawthorne.

“It went from raining straight down to sideways, backwards,” he said.

Cullen said he and three other members of his family dashed to a bathroom in the basement to wait out the storm.

“It was just ‘bang,’ and it was on you,” he said.

Worley said the storm “was pretty much over as quickly as it started,” although the wait for it to pass “seemed like an eternity.”

Also blown down were several panels of fencing along the north end of the Lincoln-Way North High School campus in Frankfort Township. It serves as a buffer for the subdivision to the north.

Talha Al-Zoubi, who lives in one of the subdivision’s townhomes, said despite the destroyed fencing, he “wasn’t too shaken” because he was tracking the storm on his smartphone.

But “it got really foggy and you couldn’t really see anything at all” as the storm went through, he said.

The Orland Fire Protection District said in a statement it hadn’t received any reports of severe damage, an outcome that Chief Ken Brucki said was fortunate.

“We skirted the major brunt of the storm,” he said. “It was headed towards us but turned to the east before creating damage to our community.”

Farther north, Oak Lawn also was spared major damage, village Trustee Bob Streit (3rd) said.

“The high winds came through here, too. But we only had some minor damage, some tree limbs; I heard a billboard was down, there was some street flooding, but nothing significant, thank God,” he said. “Downstate got hurt real bad so we were fortunate, very lucky. We’re blessed.”

He heard from ComEd that 1,100 homes were without power during the early part of the storm but that had been reduced to about 650.

One of the worst-hit parts in Illinois was downstate Washington, and a Joliet woman believes a remnant from the storm may have blown the roughly 100 miles to Joliet.

Kelly McCormick Queeney, who lives in the Sunnyland subdivision of Joliet, took her dog out between storms Sunday afternoon and found part of a birth certificate laying in her back yard.

“It was completely wet so I brought it inside to dry,” Queeney, a mother of 5, said.

She realized right away it belonged to a minor, a boy from Washington, the town where a tornado touched down. She found the boy’s Facebook page and sent him a message, telling him she’d be happy to return the certificate if he wanted her to.

“What disturbs me is that for his birth certificate to end up in Joliet, his house must have been hit hard,” she said.

Contributing: Brian Stanley, Jon Seidel, Steve Metsch, Donna Vickroy, Erin Gallagher and Mike Deacon



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