Residents return to tornado-torn Illinois town

Residents of Fairdale, Ill., were allowed to return to their homes Saturday, two days after an EF4 tornado - with winds of 200 m.p.h. - struck. 

Residents of a small northern Illinois farming community that took a direct hit from a tornado are being allowed back into the area to assess the damage.

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Office says it bused residents into Fairdale at 7 a.m. Saturday.

The National Weather Service says eight tornadoes are confirmed to have roared across northern and central Illinois during Thursday's storms. The strongest of the tornadoes hit Fairdale, where two people were killed. That tornado also injured 22 people.

Jacklyn Klosa, 69, was found Friday morning in the rubble of her Fairdale home, not far from where Geraldine Schultz, 67, died Thursday night when the tornado bore down on their neighborhood in Fairdale, a community of about 150 people. The storm that came through the area 80 miles west of Chicago ripped buildings from their foundations.

Schultz, known as "Geri," hosted annual Christmas parties and made a point of driving Klosa to clinics for medical treatment. Klosa, known as "Jackie," was described by friends as a friendly and quick-witted woman who spoke her mind.

Klosa "was just one of the most friendly people in the world, a wonderful mother and a wonderful friend," said Les Bellah, mayor of neighboring Kirkland, recalling the "big ol' hug" he got from her recently but also how she'd "let you know" if she was upset with you. "You never had to wonder what she was thinking."

Fairdale has no village government, no school, no cable TV and no major businesses. Some residents kept horses in town; one family found one of its horses dead amid the debris Friday afternoon.

All Fairdale homes were evacuated, in part, because of a lack of electricity. But trees, power lines and debris lay strewn on the ground, posing a safety hazard. Roofs from buildings were missing. Metal siding from barns were wrapped around trees.

Residents gathered Friday at a roadblock a mile from town, eager to check the damage to their homes. Police said it was too dangerous, and authorities said residents would likely be able to return by Saturday.

Al Zammuto, a 60-year-old machinist, was among those trying to get back in. He recalled the evening before when he and other residents received cellphone alerts at 6:45 p.m. — the town doesn't have sirens — but he dismissed it, as previous warnings hadn't amounted to anything.

Then his windows exploded.

Joe Benedetto, 55, who lives just outside Fairdale, saw the tornado roll into the community and likened the sound to "a giant vacuum cleaner." While his house was spared major damage, powerful winds launched a single branch, like a spear, though his kitchen wall.

Zammuto, in Fairdale itself, took cover as the severe weather struck. Bricks were torn off the side of his home. Minutes later he stepped outside, and he said the town "looked like a landfill" and the sounds were haunting.

"People were screaming and yelling," he said. "People were in total shock."

National Weather Service meteorologist Jamie Enderlen said at least one tornado touched down near Fairdale and was initially rated an EF4, meaning it was capable of producing winds up to 200 mph. Damage survey teams were working Friday to officially determine how long tornadoes stayed on the ground, their strength and extent of the damage.

In Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is hosting its 15th annual weather symposium to teach families how to survive and thrive in severe weather events.

The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Hardin Hall on the university campus. The free event will explore the wonders of weather.

Participants will have the chance to meet local television weathercasters and try out their own weathercasting skills against an interactive green screen. The event will also feather the Doppler on Wheels, a mobile tornado research laboratory, and the Nebraska Task Force Search and Rescue Dog team.

The Nebraska Emergency Management team will also talk about the deadly tornado that struck Pilger last June.

(Tareen reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers David Mercer and Tammy Webber contributed to this report.)

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.