‘Just Like a Train Coming Through': 4 Injured After Tornado Tears Through Pontiac

Neighbors described first hearing the pounding of hail before the tornado hit

Four people were hospitalized, including two parents who were trapped inside a home with their children, when a tornado tore through the southwest Illinois town of Pontiac Wednesday night.

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. 

A young family of four was at the Sterling Estates Trailer Park where they lived around 10:15 p.m. when neighbors say the tornado touched down and tore the home apart. 

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."

The two adults and two children were trapped for about 20 minutes before first responders were able to remove them from the rubble and they were transported to St. James Hospital. The two children did not sustain injuries but were taken as a precaution, fire officials said, while the adults suffered broken bones and bruises. 

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.

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