A woman is recovering after a tornado swept through her home in Pontiac, leaving her with a fractured hip after a terrifying ordeal. Rachel Baxter said the storm was like a dream. But she, her boyfriend Danny, and his children Connor and Raley all lived through a nightmare Wednesday night.
"I ran to the bathroom with Raley and we sat in the bathtub," Rachel told NBC 5. "Danny was with Connor in his room. The next thing I know I felt the ground sweep me off my feet. I tripped into the bathtub and it threw me out of the bathtub while I had her in my arms."
The EF-2 tornado began at 10:06 p.m. just 8 miles northeast of Pontiac and traveled 11.1 miles, ending 3 miles southeast of Pontiac. Winds peaked between 115 and 125 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Baxter's trailer at Sterling Estates mobile home park in Pontiac literally rolled off its base with all of them trapped inside at around 10:15 p.m.
"The next thing I know we were outside in the pouring rain on the ground," Rachel said. "My adrenaline kicked in. I don't know how I did it but I walked over and got those kids. I set them on the ground next to us."
Neighbors described first hearing a sudden burst of pounding of hail before the tornado hit.
“[I heard] a loud roar,” one neighbor told NBC 5. “Then we saw the wind and we looked out and that’s when I saw the trailer was going."
Fire officials say the home was ripped from its foundation and rolled over several times.
"I watched the trailer blow over," the neighbor said. "That's when I heard screaming and ran out."
All four of them were trapped for about 20 minutes before first responders were able to pull them from the rubble, authorities said. Danny was pulled out first.
"He was puking up blood and he had a gash in side of face, dripping blood," Rachel said.
They were taken to St. James Hospital, where Rachel and Danny were treated for broken bones and bruises. The children did not sustain any injuries but were taken as a precaution, fire officials said.
At least three other homes were damaged, according to Livingston County’s emergency manager, and two others were injured. It is unclear where they were during the storm.
Down the road, the manager of the Shell gas station at South Deerfield Rd. and Illinois Route 116, Jenny Hamilton, said two cashiers were working when the twister came pummeling down the rural state highway.
"A lot of the girls were screaming and crying and they said it just hit really fast," Hamilton said. "They said it was just like a train coming through.'
The workers grabbed the 10 customers that were inside at the time and huddled in the women’s bathroom, the manager said.
Despite the massive amount of clean-up needed from the storm damage, many residents told NBC 5 they were just relieved that no one was killed, and there were no serious injuries.
“I still consider this to be very lucky, it could have been a lot worse,” Pontiac Fire Chief Scott Runyon said.
By 10 a.m., most of power in Pontiac had been restored after crews sent hundreds to repair services as quickly as possible.
The Mayor of Pontiac, Bob Russell, said in a Thursday news conference the governor called and offered “all the help that we need” while the city recovers from the powerful storms.
“When you see all the damage – behind us the brick wall lying down, the wood board through the windshield of a car – the fact that no one was hurt was a miracle,” Russell said, pointing to a building that was being used for shelter for drivers pulling off the interstate.
“There could have been 50 to 100 people killed right here,” Russell said.
Thursday at the mobile home park, good Samaritans helped clean up and sort through the wreckage.
"A lot of sorting has been going on," said Andrew Sterken, a youth pastor at Pontiac Bible Church. "What's salvageable and what's not, any pictures or heirlooms that we can collect."
A GoFundMe page has been set up for the young family, and other victims are being helped as well. Businesses like the local Dollar General are taking monetary and purchased donations for victims of the tornado.
Other businesses, like Bull's Place, didn't fare as well. When the tornado ripped the roof from the travel store off of I-55, the three people inside ran into the cooler for shelter. They're safe, but the insurance adjuster estimates several weeks of repairs.
"It's only money," said owner Jim Letsos.