Second Illinois tornado death confirmed

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(CNN) — Two people were killed in the rural Illinois hamlet of Fairdale after a massive storm unleashed tornadoes in the Midwest, Gov. Bruce Rauner said Friday. Southwest of Fairdale, in Ogle County, 49 homes were damaged but no fatalities reported, officials said.

[Original story]

(CNN) — Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle’s house in Rochelle, Illinois, was a mound of rubble when he arrived at dawn Friday.

Fortunately, his wife and children were out of town when the tornado struck Thursday night. VanVickle was working at the time, he told CNN. His brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who live across the street, were also out. Their home was leveled as well — one of at least 30 houses either completely destroyed or left uninhabitable by the twister.

“The family is safe,” the sheriff said stoically. “That’s all that matters. By god’s grace, nobody was home. … Things can be replaced.”

Even his dog survived: It was found in the ruins, resting atop the mattress of VanVickle’s daughter.

In her 40 years in Rochelle, Cathy Olson had never seen a tornado that big. “I saw the top of the funnel cloud, and it was absolutely massive,” she said.

She watched the hulking gray twister grind past her town Thursday, tearing up its fringes.

Farther north, in the rural Illinois hamlet of Fairdale, one person died as a twister shredded homes and ripped trees bare of leaves and most limbs. Only the thickest branches remained standing.

Geraldine M. Schultz, 67, was killed Thursday night when the tornado tore through town, according to Dennis Miller with the DeKalb County coroner.

It was the only death reported in two days of tornado touchdowns. About a dozen people were treated for minor injuries at a local hospital.

Rochelle was fortunate. In nearby Kirkland, debris was so thick on the roads, responders searching for trapped residents could not yet assess the damage or injuries, fire officials said.

On Thursday, a video surfaced on YouTube of a massive twister barreling across an open field, barely missing farmhouses and barns. Images of the funnel turned up elsewhere on social media.

Midwestern spate

As many as 14 tornadoes were reported in the rural Midwest on Thursday. A large and dangerous twister tore across fields in Iowa. And a twister touched down 70 miles outside St. Louis.

Tornadoes were reported Wednesday in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, the Storm Prediction Center said.

Hail stones the size of tennis balls plummeted down on Ashton, Illinois.

It could have been worse as severe tornado damage dotted a path not far from the dense populations of Chicago and Rockford — the state’s third-largest city. The tornado cut a 22-mile path through Ogle County, according to disaster management coordinator Tom Richter.

Landmark restaurant

North of Rochelle, a tornado took away a local favorite restaurant — Grubsteakers. “It’s kind of one of your little greasy spoon restaurants,” said Eric Widick, who drove up in his truck to help out.

“We’re a community. If one person is in need, we’ll all be there for them.”

People were inside when the storm quashed Grubsteakers and turned over a semitruck parked outside. No one was killed or seriously injured, Widick said. A patron who found shelter in a restroom was trapped inside for about half an hour.

People had been eating at Grubsteakers for some 25 years and will miss it, Widick said.

In Rochelle, the tornado flattened some of the homes of Olson’s friends.

A safe distance away from it, at her mother’s house, she had to think about her husband, Chet, who was re-elected mayor of the town of about 10,000 people the previous day. He’d have a job ahead of him.

“I have not been able to get a hold of him, Olson said, “but I know he’s in touch with the sheriff and is safe,” she said.

Sheriff’s house flattened

VanVickle told journalists late Thursday that the tornado had spared life and limb aside from some people whose injuries were easily treatable.

Only foundations remained of some homes, said storm chaser Dan Gottschalk. “You can hear the hissing everywhere from where the structures used to be,” he said.

Lindsey Clark, a reporter from CNN affiliate WREX-TV in Rockford, said rescuers were pulling trapped people from a home in the Rochelle area.

VanVickle was newly elected sheriff of Rochelle on Wednesday. On Thursday, the storm took his house and his sister-in-law’s. “I’ve got the clothes on my back,” he said.

It was the first tornado the sheriff had ever seen in his county. “I’ve lived here all my life, am the fifth generation in the county. My mom said this is the first time she’s ever seen a tornado.”

He said he is thankful the National Weather Service warned one could come. That saved lives, he said.

“We didn’t have a single fatality in the county,” said VanVickle, standing in front of the ruins that were once his home. “You count your blessings and you thank God — even though you see what’s behind you — thank God that everybody’s safe.”

For the time being, VanVickle and his family will stay with relatives.

“The nice part is we live in the Midwest and everyone takes care of their own,” he said.

The weather service warned of a “particularly dangerous situation.” People across the Midwest should be on alert for severe weather. Tornado watches ran out early Friday. Severe thunderstorms are possible Friday afternoon or evening from parts of the mid-Atlantic region to the Gulf Coast states.

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