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Tornadoes rips through Chicago; Campground 'decimated' by storms

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After a primary check, officials said no one was killed when a tornado struck Coal City. Five people were hospitalized with minor injuries. (WLS)

At least five tornadoes touched down in north central Illinois, the National Weather Service confirms. Those tornadoes touched down in Will, Kankakee, Lee, Grundy and LaSalle counties.

The National Weather Service said the towns of Coal City, Sublette and Mendota were among the hardest hit by Monday night's severe weather. Officials said damage survey teams will be dispatched later Tuesday morning to those communities, as well as Harmon, Ottawa, Morris, Braidwood and Momence.

About 17,200 ComEd customers are without power as of 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. Most of the outages are in Dixon, Sterling, Coal City and Joliet. At the height of the storm, more than 55,000 customers were in the dark. ComEd aims to have power restored to all customers by around 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Governor Bruce Rauner declared Grundy and Lee counties disaster areas on Tuesday and made state resources available to help tornado victims. He activated the State Emergency Operations Center Monday night to make crews and equipment available to help local emergency responders.

PHOTOS: Tornado, storm damage reported across Chicago area
SEARCH FOR SURVIVORS IN SUBLETTE

Storms slammed the community of Sublette in Lee County Monday night. Sublette is about 100 miles west of Chicago.

Sublette Assistant Fire Chief Kevin Schultz said Tuesday that the damage to Woodhaven Lakes, a private campground spanning 1,800 acres, is much worse than he originally anticipated.

"At this point in time, the best word to describe it is 'decimated.' There are trailers in trees. There are trailers upside down. We have liquefied petroleum gas that is in the trees. It is the worst thing I have ever seen," Schultz said.

The damage spans about 700 acres in the southern half of the park. Woodhaven is blocked to anyone trying to get inside. Schultz said five people were injured during the storms.

"We did transport one person to the hospital and we have four walking wounded that were treated by the paramedics or EMTs at the scene and refused care," Schultz said.

Gov. Rauner deployed an 80-member search and rescue team to help look for people who may be trapped at Woodhaven.

Richard Bolin, who was camping at Woodhaven when the tornado struck, said he was lucky.

"Total devastation. All my neighbors have trees down on all their campers. I got lucky. I have my boat and my camper here. Missed all of my stuff by inches. I drove down here from the Fairdale, Kirkland area because we just had a major tornado there. I wanted to see what it was like. It was exactly like that," Bolin said.

Schultz said NWS has not confirmed a tornado in Sublette. Damage assessment teams will be on the ground Tuesday.

COAL CITY TORNADO CLEANUP

A tornado struck Coal City around 10 p.m. Monday, the second in just under two years. The community of around 5,000 is located about 60 miles southwest of Chicago.

Wilmington Fire Protection District Deputy Chief Todd Friddle said five people were taken to the hospital with minor injuries overnight. There have been no reports of fatalities.

Many survivors were pulled from their basements, Friddle said, once rescue teams were able to get to them. A secondary search is scheduled for Tuesday to make sure everyone is accounted for.

Wilmington Fire is among 35 other agencies who responded to Coal City to help after the tornado touched down. Residents said they heard tornado sirens go off and took cover. Later, they heard a deafening roar as the twister moved overhead.

"I looked out the back door and stuff started blasting the house. So, I ran for the bathroom. I came out ten minutes later and... smashed," Matthew Richardson said.

"All the trees are down, all the power lines are gone. My neighbor's roof is gone. My cars are buried. Power lines are on my car. My wife's car is surrounded by 100-year-old oak trees. I lost probably five trees. My roof is leaking in three different places," Glenn Root said.

Coal City Village Administrator Matt Fritz said multiple subdivisions on the south side of town were damaged. Mayor Terry Halliday said the tornado formed near Coal City High School on the west side of town and moved southeast.

"It's eerily close to the damage we saw about a year and a half ago," Friddle added.

Fire Station No. 2 was struck by lightning during the storm, which caused a communications tower to fall on the building. But emergency crews were able to respond out of the station soon after the damage occurred.

I-55 near Reed Road was shut down for hours overnight because high tension power lines from the Braidwood nuclear plant were downed across the interstate. I-55 has since reopened.

Many of the roads leading into Coal City are blocked Tuesday morning because it is too dangerous to go in. Workers are walking through the rubble to assess damage. They said some buildings were wiped out entirely and there are natural gas leaks in many homes. Overhead wires are hanging low enough to connect with larger vehicles.

Friddle said many Coal City emergency workers' homes were damaged by the tornado, including the fire chief.

An emergency shelter was established at Coal City High School at 650 West Division Street for residents in need. The American Red Cross and United Methodist Church are coordinating efforts to help them.

Fritz said a hotline (815-518-3047) will be available around 9:30 a.m. to connect volunteers with affected residents. Volunteers will be welcome once the area is deemed safe.

The Community Foundation of Grundy County's website has further information about how people can help. Mayor Halliday said cash donations will be the best way to assist affected residents.

The Grundy County Community Organizations Active in Disaster Facebook page will also be used to coordinate volunteers and donations.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

Related Topics:
weathersevere weatherstormhailwind damagetornadoCoal CityGrundy CountyWill CountyKankakee CountyLaSalle County
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