FAIRDALE, Ill. (AP) — Supercell thunderstorms produced a large tornado that 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 Fairdale, an unincorporated town of about 200 residents, and seven were taken to area hospitals for their injuries, Matthew Knott, division chief for the Rockford Fire Department, said at a news conference early Friday.
Every home in the town was affected, authorities said. DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said in a news release that approximately 15 to 20 were totally destroyed.
Authorities said that they were fairly confident there were no more victims among the debris but that they would be working Friday to account for every single resident, including those who may have left town before the storm.
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. Ogle County is adjacent to DeKalb County.
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.”
Trees were uprooted, power lines were down and debris was everywhere surrounding the restaurant Thursday night.
The tornado was part of a storm that tracked across at least five counties, according to the Weather Service.
Radar and reports from trained spotters also show the storms produced “at the very least” one other tornado in northern Illinois.
Three damage survey teams will assess the areas tomorrow to determine the exact location and magnitude of the tornadoes.
The severe weather, the region’s first widespread bout, 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 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.
A severe thunderstorm that brought high winds and rain through East Texas on Thursday night damaged the roof of a nursing home in Longview, causing its evacuation. No injuries were immediately reported. Thousands were without power in the region.
Earlier Thursday, the Davenport, Iowa, office of the Weather Service 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.
McCann reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Don Babwin and Michael Tarm also contributed to this report from Chicago.