Victims pick up the pieces after Sunday’s tornado
By Janet Lundquist, Brian Stanley and Erin Gallagher firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com November 18, 2013 9:27PM
Updated: December 20, 2013 6:18AM
DIAMOND — The back of Karla Welch’s house on Laura Lane in Diamond looked a lot like a doll house.
The outside wall was ripped off the second floor, revealing the contents of two rooms still in place — beds made, books on shelves, board games still neatly stacked in a closet.
Welch and her husband, Lloyd, were not home when a tornado tore through the Diamond Estates subdivision Sunday afternoon. She heard about the devastation from her neighbor.
“She said, ‘Honey, I have to tell you, it’s bad,’” Welch said.
The Welches returned home to what looked like a war zone — the 800 block of Laura Lane was ravaged by the storm.
An estimated 20 to 30 tornadoes tore through Illinois on Sunday — killing at least six people and injuring up to 200, demolishing homes and buildings, uprooting trees and downing power lines. Locally, hundreds of homes in Grundy and Will counties were damaged or destroyed, and people were left struggling without power and, in some cases, water.
On Monday, people on Laura Lane and elsewhere hit hard by the storm began picking up the pieces. Gov. Pat Quinn and local officials came to see the destruction firsthand and offer support.
Jenifer Elliott, who lives two houses from the Welchs, said she and her sons on Sunday had just finished putting holiday decorations outside when they heard tornado sirens.
“I said, ‘Guys, let’s head downstairs,’” Elliott said.
She, her sons and her husband as well as her next-door neighbors headed to the basement. The windows started to rattle, their ears popped. Then, seconds later, it was over. Their roof was torn off the garage, their living room window blew in, but no one was hurt, Elliott said, which was most important.
Welch praised the overwhelming volunteer effort, which she said made dealing with the mess that much easier.
“It’s just a house,” she said. “It’ll be OK.”
Coal City United Methodist Church was bustling Monday morning, as volunteers dropped off supplies. The church was a hub for donations, everything from clothing and toiletries to cardboard boxes and bleach.
Church member Lori Cora, of Coal City, initiated the effort Sunday. She called her pastor about 3 p.m. Sunday, and people began bringing supplies to the church 15 minutes later, she said. Volunteers there worked in four-hour shifts all night, coordinating and delivering donations, Cora said.
Sunday morning services had just ended at Christian Life Assembly church in Diamond, when Associate Pastor Paul Guerin walked outside and noticed two funnel clouds in the distance. About 30 people huddled inside the church as the tornado blew past, he said.
“The building started shaking and trembling, we could hear what you always hear about tornados, the roar of a train, your ears started popping,” Guerin said. “In 10 seconds, it was over.”
The church building sustained some structural damage, while the Chrome Rack Bar and Grill next door was harder hit.
“It’s just a miracle that no one was hurt,” Guerin said Monday, as he worked with Youth Pastor Derek Gowen to clean up debris in the church parking lot.
Compared to other elected officials, Diamond Mayor Teresa Kernc had a special appreciation of the damage and fear from Sunday’s storms and the impact on village residents.
“I lost my house in the Plainfield tornado in 1990,” Kernc told Quinn as they walked through the Diamond Estates subdivision Monday afternoon. “I know how devastated these people are feeling.”
To the relief of many, only four people were injured locally. Three were hurt when a house collapsed near Berta and Spring roads, which was the first call emergency workers responded to, Coal City Fire Chief James Shelton said.
“One of those injuries was serious but not life-threatening. The others were minor,” Shelton said. “Another man approached (firefighters) going house-to-house in Diamond Estates and was transported to the hospital with a minor injury. We’re very fortunate.”
Quinn said the small number of injuries was likely the result of a lesson learned from the 1990 tornado —“the importance of early warning systems.”
“I heard those sirens, and I started tweeting ‘If you’re in Grundy County take cover,’’ state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said. “The storm hit, and my husband said, ‘you’re tweeting?’ Of course I did.”
ComEd Chief Operating Officer Terence Donnelly told Rezin about 70 utility poles had been knocked down locally and about 130 customers were without power as of late Monday morning. Ten steel electrical towers were also brought down in the storm.
“There’s significant damage to the system and temporary repairs are the priority,” Donnelly said, adding that high winds overnight Sunday made the work harder through the night.
Quinn and Kernc urged anyone whose home or business was damaged to document it as much as possible with pictures to support insurance claims and federal relief applications. Quinn reminded victims to use public resources for any questions to discourage scame artists from promising to make legitimate repairs.
Kernc said the village hall will supply phone lines, copiers and email access to any resident who needs them. A village meeting will be held Wednesday at Diamond Banquet Hall, 55 S. Daley St., where residents can be directed to various agencies for assistance.
In Manhattan, Fire Station 2, south of the village, reported a funnel cloud near the station around noon, said Terry Doyle, Manhattan’s emergency management services director.
“I drove through it, and all I saw was a wall of water,” Manhattan Township Highway Commissioner Jim Baltas said. “It was just like a heavy thunderstorm. All I saw was a wall of water and two garbage cans hit my pickup.”
It happened so quickly, that it was over within a half-mile drive, he said. The tornado struck on Bruns Road about two miles east of the Galvez Restaurant on Illinois 52, then tore through about 10 homes along Bruns Road to Schoolhouse Road.
On Monday, north of those houses on Bruns Road, were mangled high-tension power lines, which run on a northeasterly diagonal path toward Frankfort. On Haley Road, a mile north of Bruns Road, was the roof of a silo or grain bin dropped in the middle of the road.
“It seemed like it followed the path of the high lines,” Doyle said of the twister.
The storm blew out a wall of windows on the front of Debbie Smith’s home on Bruns Road. There were logs in her front hall, a piece of her neighbor’s roof in her living room.
“It happened so quick,” Smith said.
On Monday, the weather was a complete contrast. On Bruns Road, the sun was shining, geese were flying overhead. Baltas said they had crews working after dark Sunday to clear the road of debris. By noon Monday, they took three loads in their 6-wheel dump trucks, which were about 15 yards per load, Baltas said.
Baltas and Doyle said that they’ve received a tremendous outpouring of support from neighboring towns. Doyle said New Lenox and Crown Point, Ind., emergency services crews were both helping Sunday.
Schools in the Coal City Unit School District 1 were expected to reopen Tuesday. District Supt. Kent Bugg said classes were cancelled Monday at all five schools because the bus dispatch center and garage sustained heavy damage. Bugg said 35 buses were lost in the tornado, and many students had no way of getting to school.
“We contract the bus service out, and I found out (Monday afternoon) that they will be able to get enough buses out Tuesday, so school will be in session,” he said.
In Will County, regional schools Supt. Shawn Walsh said Taft School District 90 in Lockport did not have classes Monday because of a power outage from the storm. Summit Hill District 161 in Frankfort Township reported that Indian Trail School was damaged, and Wilton Center Elementary School in Peotone did not hold classes Monday because electricity was still out.
Joliet Township High School District 204 spokeswoman Kristine Schlismann said classes were held Monday at Joliet West and Joliet Central high schools, but there was some minor damage to each school.
Contributing: Tina Akouris, Susan DeMar Lafferty and Frank Vaisvilas