Severe Thunderstorms in Northern Illinois Spawn Tornadoes, Damage Homes

At least 10 people were injured as severe thunderstorms battered several Illinois counties on Monday night with torrential rain, gusty winds, areas of flash flooding and tornadoes.

At 8:08 p.m., a tornado was confirmed on the ground in Sublette, about 55 miles south of Rockford. Lee County Sheriff John Simonton said firefighters and other emergency workers responded to reports of flooding and damage in Woodhaven Lakes, a private camping resort.  

Randy Koehler, the resort's director of marketing, said first responders from 10 nearby departments converged on the area to help clear roadways of downed trees and check on each of the 6,200 property sites. 

One person there was hospitalized with injuries that were serious but not life-threatening, and four others described as "walking wounded" were either treated on scene or refused treatment, said Sublette assistant Fire Chief Kevin Schultz. The injury total could still increase, Schultz said.

A shaken 82-year-old resident, Ofelia Saucedo, described how two large trees crashed onto her trailer and vehicle shortly after she'd gotten up from the couch to take her medicine. Had she not moved, she said she would have been covered by debris.

"I'm very lucky. I know God was on my side," she said. 

Sublette Asst. Fire Chief Kevin Schultz said downed trees was the biggest task first-responders were tackling.

"When I first arrived on scene down on section nine, I can tell you that there was probably 40 or 50 trees across the road. We're talking great bit large oak trees, probably two to three foot around, 60 [to] 80 foot tall either uprooted or twisted and out into the roads," he said. 

At about 9 p.m., another tornado was spotted on radar near Serena, about 30 miles southwest of Aurora.

In Sterling, in Whiteside County, a portion of the roof of Northland Mall, at 2900 E. Lincolnway, was torn off. A new Dunham's Sports store was damaged. 

"The roof started to lift up, the lights started swing, and tons of water came pouring in," employee Drew Sauer told Sauk Valley Media.

In Braidwood, Interstate 55 at Reed Road was closed in both directions after high-tension power lines were knocked to the ground. The Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station is nearby.

Authorities said high winds also caused heavy damage in Coal City, a city of approximately 5,000 residents about 60 miles southwest of Chicago. Many homes were damaged and power lines were down throughout the area. The smell of gas lingered in the region around the Richards Crossing subdivision.

Especially hard hit appeared to be the subdivision around Trotter Drive. A fire official told NBC Chicago the damage there appeared to be even worse than what was left after tornadoes in November 2013

Coal City officials said Monday’s storms were "eerily" similar to the storm system that tore through the community less than two years prior.

The Coal City Fire Department reported five injuries, believed to be non-life threatening, in the area. There could be more as authorities were canvassing the area to account for all residents, Grundy County Emergency Management director Joe Schroeder said early Tuesday. 

"We are early in the process of determining the level of damage," Schroeder said, adding at least 30 buildings were affected, many of them in residential areas.

Coal City High School, at 650 W. Division St., was intact and was established as a staging area and emergency shelter.

Lt. David Doerfler of the Coal City Fire Protection District said the village was being placed under "restricted access" and that people should stay away from the area unless they absolutely need to be there.

A Commonwealth Edison spokeswoman shortly before 10 p.m. reported about 14,000 customers were without power throughout the region. A majority of the outages -- about 10,000 of them -- were in Dixon and Sterling.

By Tuesday morning, ComEd said 55,000 homes and businesses were affected by the storms, but as of 5 a.m., 36,000 of those customers had power restored.

In advance of the storms, the utility said it was increasing staffing and opening its Emergency Operations Center in preparation for the severe weather.

“We are increasing our staffing levels and have contractor crews on stand-by ready to respond to any power interruptions that may result from these storms,” Terence R. Donnelly, executive vice president and chief operating officer for ComEd, said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the weather and proactively respond as conditions change.”

By 11:30 a.m. Monday, O'Hare International Airport reported more than 150 flight cancellations and Midway Airport had canceled more than 40 flights. 

Michigan also saw stormy weather Monday, when a storm damaged at least four homes near Millington. In Portland, near Lansing, five people had to be rescued from buildings after a tornado hit.

The storms were expected to continue east, with parts of northern Indiana and southern Michigan under a tornado watch early Tuesday.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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