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2 Dead After Two Tornadoes Hit Near Rockford; Searches Of Rubble Resume

Updated 04/10/15 - 12:19 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Gov. Bruce Rauner confirmed two people have died in the tiny hamlet of Fairdale, Illinois, after a massive "wedge" tornado virtually destroyed the town.

At least 20 other people were injured in the storm, including six who spent the night at hospitals.

One of the dead has been identified as 67-year-old Geraldine Schultz, who was found inside her home. The second victim was identified as 69-year-old Jacklyn Klosa, who was missing after the tornado hit, and later found dead in her home during a second search of the town Friday morning.

Among the damage, a restaurant was reduced to rubble, fences were torn apart, utility poles were snapped off, and several homes were destroyed, leaving dozens of families homeless.

The National Weather Service confirms two tornadoes touched down during a series of powerful storms Thursday evening. One hit Rochelle, a city of 9,500 people about 25 miles south of Rockford; the other hit Fairdale, a town of about 200 people, less than 20 miles southeast of Rockford.

Pictures and video emerged of a massive "wedge" tornado that swept through Fairdale, virtually destroying the entire town.

"This is unusual, not only to see in our area, it's unusual to see in any area. There aren't that many of these throughout the course of a year," said CBS 2 Meteorologist Ed Curran. "Many times wedge tornadoes are very powerful, with wind speeds that get up to what we call EF4 or EF5 levels."

Tornado Near Rockford
A "wedge" tornado touches down near Ashton, Ill. (courtesy: Tom Purdy/@tompurdywi)

According to the Enhanced Fujita Scale, EF4 tornadoes produce winds between 166 and 200 mph, while EF5 tornadoes produce winds over 200 mph.

Nearly all of the buildings in Fairdale were damaged to some extent, with many wiped out by the twister, which touched down around 7:15 p.m. Officials said at least 17 structures were destroyed, another 50 were damaged, out of about 75 total buildings in Fairdale.

Friday morning, officials said some people in the town had not yet been accounted for, but they stressed those people might not have been in the town at the time the twister hit. They were checking land records, and interviewing neighbors, in an effort to track everyone down.

Officials also said they have searched at least 71 buildings in Fairdale, to make sure they do not miss anyone, but the process is very slow, as they must sift through rubble by hand.


Residents who lost their homes have moved in with relatives, or at shelters quickly put together for the little town that's almost gone. The Salvation Army and the American Red Cross both have set up shelters for the victims.

The monstrous tornado huffed and puffed its way across a rural landscape, yet still managed to devour dozens of homes.

"Several homes were totally destroyed, and many residents were displaced," DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said.

Carole Poplin said she heard an enormous roaring sound as the tornado bore down on her home. She grabbed her grandchildren, and rushed into the basement.

"You could hear stuff breaking upstairs, and crashing," she said. "I went upstairs, and it was just devastating, just devastating."

Leo Cardot answered the cries for help from neighbors, after the tornado virtually destroyed the entire town.

"Fear was a part of it, but it was just my nature to do what needed to be done," he said. "Very emotional situation to be involved in."

Emergency crews searched every home in Fairdale twice, to make sure they could account for everyone.

The Red Cross has set up operations in neighboring Kirkland, Illinois, which was spared the tornado's wrath.

"It's really odd. We had no damage in Kirkland. It's like it left Fairdale and jumped right over our city, and I'm just … I'm speechless," Kirkland Mayor Les Bellah said. "Fairdale is like Kirkland's little sister city, and when they hurt, we hurt, and that's true of all little town communities in Illinois, and we're just hurting for them people today."

Bellah said a rescue center has been set up at the Kirkland fire station, and hundreds of volunteers have been providing food, blankets, and shelter for the victims of the tornado.

"There's been somebody at the fire station all night, and I've been offered help from probably 25 mayors in northern Illinois, to offer their services. I'm just humbled by all this. I'm speechless," he said.

Fairdale Tornado Bernie 1
Virtually every home in Fairdale, Illinois, was damaged by a tornado that devastated the tiny hamlet of about 200 people. (Credit: Bernie Tafoya/WBBM)

Unfortunately, they found 67-year-old Geraldine Schultz dead inside her home.

"They were planning a birthday party. This is her daughter's birthday today, and everybody was supposed to meet here. I don't know why it didn't happen. I don't," said her son-in-law, Roland Robinson. "The roof is completely gone; not even on that lot. Not one house is where it was. There's a two-block range that's just completely devastated."

At least 11 others in Fairdale were taken to hospitals for injuries. Another person was unaccounted for Friday morning.

Another twister ripped through Rochelle just after 7 p.m., though that town fared somewhat better. There were no reports of anyone missing, no fatalities, and only a handful of minor injuries, according to Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle.

The sheriff said about 30 homes, including his own, were destroyed or left uninhabitable.

The tornado in Rochelle did catch a dozen people of guard, trapping them inside a restaurant that was destroyed by the storm. As soon as they heard tornado sirens, they ran into the basement of Grubsteakers Restaurant, and ended up trapped there when the building was leveled.


The trapped patrons waited for rescue for nearly 90 minutes before emergency crews managed to get them out, by carving a hole in the rubble.

The winds also threw a semi-trailer truck onto its side.

One couple who had to be rescued said it's a miracle they're alive.

"When it hit, definitely we knew it hit. We didn't know how bad, but when we tried to get out, the whole wall was on top of the doors going into the cellar," Raymond Kramer said.

Access to Rochelle has been limited to residents only, until authorities confirm there are no active power lines down, and no natural gas leaks, according to VanVickle.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter at Rochelle High School for those with nowhere else to go.

Incredibly, there have been no reports of injuries in Rochelle.

Gov. Bruce Rauner has activated the State Incident Response Center in Springfield, to make sure crews and equipment can be deployed quickly, if needed to help local officials with response to the storms.

Three National Weather Service damage survey team will be out in the area Friday to assess the magnitude of the twisters, and chart the paths of the tornadoes. Curran praised the service for giving residents ample notice by predicting the day's severe weather well in advance.

"Looking back on this kind of tornado, I just want to say that Northern Illinois was slated to be in an area, forecast to be in an area for large tornadoes today, and they were absolutely right. The storm prediction center not only did a fantastic job of telling us that this could happen today, but they went back and started warning of this as long as five days ago. So we had so much warning," he said. "So when you hear about people going to a basement and saving their lives, it's not just because the warning they heard today that they got on a weather radio or on a cell phone, but it's that news in the back of your mind that this could happen. So hats off to them and a thank you to them for the long warning we had of this terrible situation."

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