2 killed after severe weather hits downstate Illinois: 'My whole neighborhood is pretty well destroyed'

A man was confirmed dead in Ottawa in north-central Illinois after a tornado touched down there, part of a storm that produced severe weather across the northern part of the state Tuesday afternoon and evening, according to the National Weather Service.The...

2 killed after severe weather hits downstate Illinois: 'My whole neighborhood is pretty well destroyed'

A man was confirmed dead in Ottawa in north-central Illinois after a tornado touched down there, part of a storm that produced severe weather across the northern part of the state Tuesday afternoon and evening, according to the National Weather Service.

The Ottawa Fire Department reported one fatality from the tornado that hit the town about 4:45 p.m., according to the weather service. The victim, Wayne Tuntland, 76, was killed by a tree, the LaSalle County coroner's office said.

Rich Ploch, chief deputy in the LaSalle County coroner's office, said Tuntland and an unidentified middle-aged man were in the backyard burning debris when the storm came through.

"A family member went outside to tell them the storm was approaching," Ploch said. "It looks like they were in the process of returning to the home. Unfortunately, the tree came down on them."

In downstate Illinois, a 71-year-old man was killed when a twister struck a small building near a house in the Crossville area, in the southeast part of the state near the Indiana border, according to authorities. The man's wife was injured.

At least 14 people were injured during the storm in the Ottawa area, according to a news release from St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa. The hospital treated people for injuries to their heads, knees and arms. People were injured by falling tree limbs, and others were hurt as they tried to get home.

By Wednesday, the tornado watch had ended for the area. Dense fog was expected for areas north of Interstate 80 before sunrise, according to the weather service. Communities north of Interstate 88 could see snow showers in the afternoon.

A weather system moved across Illinois on Feb. 28, 2017, producing tornadoes and severe storms that killed at least two people and damaged property.

Less than 3 miles away in Naplate, Ill., population 550, Mike McGrath sat late Tuesday in the Village Hall, wearing the wry smile of someone who had just experienced the best and worst of luck.

On Tuesday afternoon, he and his wife had been at home watching TV for news of an incoming tornado when the announcer said, "It's here." McGrath, 65, glanced out the back window and saw that the sky had turned as black as midnight. Instantly, he and his wife fled into an central room and huddled in a corner.

"It seemed like it lasted forever, though I know it was only like a minute and a half," he said. "Then it was quiet. I got up, surveyed the damage and pretty much couldn't believe what we saw. Still can't believe it. … (The house) is pretty well gone. My whole neighborhood is pretty well destroyed."

McGrath and his wife, though, were uninjured. No one else in Naplate was badly hurt or killed, even though the tornado damaged or wrecked 50 homes.

Tornado spotted near Peru

A tornado spotted near Peru, Ill., on Feb. 28, 2017. (Jorgeanne Schramm)

A tornado spotted near Peru, Ill., on Feb. 28, 2017. (Jorgeanne Schramm)

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Among the structures that were damaged in the village was a factory. Storm damage was also reported in Woodford County, east of Peoria, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson.

Chief John Nevins of the Naplate Fire Department said 50 houses in the town of 550 residents sustained damage, ranging from missing roof shingles to total destruction. There were no fatalities, however, and the injuries were minor, he said.

"We've never had anything like this before," he said. "Like anyone else, we've had high winds that take some trees down, but nothing like this."

Later, a severe thunderstorm warning was in effect in LaSalle County late Tuesday after a storm with 80 mph winds and pingpong-ball-size hail started moving east through the county near Peru, according to the weather service.

Just before 6 p.m., a trained spotter reported a tornado near Rutland. Around that time, a round of storms had spurred tornado warnings in LaSalle, Livingston and Grundy counties.

National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Seeley said she did not have a full count of how many tornadoes were reported because some sightings may have been the same system. Investigators will assess damage Wednesday and determine whether a twister hit Oregon, Ill., in Ogle County.

"Besides the tornadoes, there was a lot of hail reports across the area," Seeley said. "Ottawa had the baseball-size hail too."

In the neighborhood of South Ottawa, the tornado's fickle path was clear. Some streets Wednesday morning were a jumble of tree limbs and dangling power lines; other streets were almost entirely free of debris. Some houses were wrecked; others nearby appeared untouched.

Anne Houk surveyed the damage outside her bungalow. Her front lawn was covered in branches, and a large piece of soffit dangled from a nearby tree. Her garage was blocked by another tree, and the rear windshield of her car was blown out.

Still, with her house mostly unscathed, she counted herself lucky.

"We fared pretty well compared to other people," she said. "We're thankful for the brick. The three little pigs did it right, I guess."

In LaSalle County, Illinois State Police were in the area, helping Ottawa police. Residents displaced by the storms were being advised to go Ottawa Township High School, 211 E. Main St. in Ottawa, where the Red Cross was helping set up a shelter. The Red Cross also was setting up a reception center at Waltham Elementary School, 946 N. 33rd Road in Utica.

There were widespread power outages in LaSalle County following the tornado touchdown, according to Ameren Illinois.

By the time the tornado was almost on top of them in their small town of Naplate, members of the Dutton family had mere seconds to take cover.

Their house has no basement, so Rachel Dutton, her son Noah Jonassen and their pug-zu Chewbacca climbed into the bathtub, while Rachel's husband, Jason Dutton, lay facedown on the bathroom floor.

The tornado passed with the sound of a freight train, Jason Dutton said, and a moment later, the house was a splintered ruin.

"I could look up and see sky," said Rachel Dutton, whose family escaped uninjured. "If we had been in the living room another 30 seconds, I don't know what would've happened."

Ottawa resident Nate Hermann was driving through the damaged area just after the storm hit. He said homes in Naplate, which is west of Ottawa, were severely damaged. He said the LaSalle County Building and the nursing home also sustained heavy damage.

"My aunt's house in Naplate got pushed over," he said, adding that she is OK.

He said her house was a half-block west of the old St. Mary's church in Ottawa.

The Rev. David Kipfer of St. Columba Catholic Church in Ottawa said St. Mary's church, which closed its parish but whose building remains in use, may have sustained damage, but obstructions and closed streets were preventing anyone from getting to the area to know for certain, he said.

Ryan Cryder, who lives about 8 miles northwest of Morris in Nettle Creek Township, was attending a youth volleyball game at Rutland Grade School when the sirens went off about 4:45 p.m, with the bulk of the storm hitting that area to the north of Ottawa about 5 p.m., he said. The game was canceled, and families left after the first wave of storms went through. At the school, they saw golf-ball-sized hail. However, when Cryder and his family arrived home, they found even larger hailstones.

"There was hail about the size of your fist, huge," Cryder said. "I've never seen it so big."

The Village Grille, 221 20th Ave. in Naplate, posted on Facebook photos of the tornado-damaged restaurant and that "everyone is ok."

"Severe damage has been done to our little restaurant," the posting says. "We are in tears. … Sending prayers to all who was affected by this monster."

A twister hit the LaSalle County Nursing Home in Ottawa. A woman answering the telephone at the nursing home said several residents reported bumps and bruises but no serious injuries. Trees and power lines were also down in the area.

LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said the tornado had all but destroyed the LaSalle County Nursing Home and the county's Highway Department building, which lay just west of Naplate.

As in the town, though, there were no major injuries to residents or workers, he said.

"The staff did a marvelous job of moving people out of rooms (as the tornado hit)," he said. "Windows were blown out. The roof was extremely damaged. The front doors were sucked right out of the building and crushed.

"I couldn't have asked more from the staff. Some of those (residents) were scared. Some were kind of oblivious to everything that's going on and were hard to control, because they wanted to just walk everywhere. The staff was just calm. Sirens going off, fire alarms going off, but it wasn't chaotic."

A fleet of ambulances transferred the residents to other quarters within a few hours, he said.

Jerry Janick, a captain with the city of LaSalle's Fire Department, said his department sent an ambulance and equipment to nearby Ottawa and Naplate shouldering the storm.

Workers with the LaSalle County Emergency Management Agency were out surveying damage, the office said.

In Oregon, Ill., the city's emergency manager reported buildings destroyed, large trees uprooted and siding taken off homes in a storm that hit the area a little after 5 p.m., according to the weather service.

Large hail fell throughout northern Illinois, with 1.75-inch hailstones reported in Olympia Fields, 1.25-inch hailstones reported in Frankfort, and 1-inch hail in Alsip, Romeoville and other locations, according to the weather service.

In Joliet, a metal pole barn was leveled during evening storms, according to the weather service.

The watch area included all of northern and central Illinois, as well five northwest Indiana counties and 17 counties in Iowa.

Check the Tribune's weather page for more information. Check back for updates.

John Keilman reported from LaSalle County. Chicago Tribune's Liam Ford, Elvia Malagon and The Associated Press contributed. Erin Gallagher is a freelance reporter.



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