OTTAWA — At least seven tornadoes roared through northern and central Illinois Tuesday afternoon, leaving three people dead.
An uprooted tree struck 76-year-old Wayne Tuntland, Tuntland’s son Toby Johnson and Johnson’s husband, 31-year-old David A. Johnson, as they were working in a backyard in the 400 block of State Street in Ottawa, according to the LaSalle County coroner’s office.
Tuntland was pronounced dead at the scene at 5:13 p.m., according to the coroner’s office.
David Johnson suffered severe head trauma and was taken to OSF Saint Elizabeth Medical Center in Ottawa, then flown to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, where he died later Tuesday, according to the coroner’s office.
Johnson’s husband, Toby Johnson, was also taken to St. Elizabeth’s in Ottawa, where he was treated and released Wednesday morning.
About 225 miles south of Ottawa, near Crossville, Illinois, an apparent tornado struck a building near a house, killing 71-year-old Thomas McCord and injuring his wife, White County Coroner Chris Marsh said.
The tornado in Ottawa was one of at least seven that appeared to touch down statewide, state officials said.
The National Weather Service in Romeoville surveyed the damage caused by three separate tornadoes so far. An EF-3 tornado, with peak winds at 155 mph, traveled about 11 miles across Naplate and Ottawa. In Oregon, an EF-1 tornado traveled about a mile and a half with wind speeds reaching about 95 mph. Another EF-1 tornado touched down in Ottawa with a top windspeed of 110 mph and traveled about a mile an a half.
The EF scale estimates the tornado’s wind speeds based on the damage caused, according to Jamie Enderlen, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. The scale ranges from 0, with low wind speeds, to 5, with strong wind speeds.
“It was just like they say, sounded like a freight train,” said Phil Hoffman, owner of the restaurant Casa Mia in Ottawa. Hoffman said he was standing in a back alley of his restaurant when the storms rolled in.
The late February tornadoes and storms — which are more commonly seen in March and April — hauled golf-ball sized hail and whipped the air with 60 mph winds.
The LaSalle County Nursing Home in an unincorporated area near Ottawa was destroyed by a twister.
“We got hit hard, but everyone including residents and staff are safe and accounted for. Your prayers are greatly appreciated,” the nursing home posted on its Facebook page.
A resident told The Times of Ottawa the tornado left portions of the town looking like a “war zone.” Judy Parker said she was driving home and it was “eerily” black inside local businesses, with people standing on the sidewalks.
“The minute you cross the bridge, it looks like a war zone,” she told The Times.
Dani Jorgensen and her daughter Sydney went to check on relatives Tuesday night and found their homes largely untouched.
“I think the town is going to come together as a community. Seems like it’s what we always do,” Sydney Jorgensen said.
The weather service said the Ottawa Fire Department reported a fatality from a tornado that hit about 4:45 p.m. Illinois State Police — who are assisting Ottawa authorities in the wake of the tornado — confirmed that a person was killed by a falling tree.
At least seven different tornadoes appeared to have hit the state, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director James Joseph.
“Both in Ottawa and Naplate, as well as Marseilles and Woodford [County], we know that they have some funnel clouds sighted and there’s some significant storm damage,” Joseph said Tuesday night, as he continued to monitor a second wave of storms.
In Ottawa, 10 people were treated for injuries after a tornado swept through the nursing home with 68 residents inside. Five residents were treated for minor injuries on the scene, while five others were taken to an area hospital for minor injuries. Others were transferred to other care facilities, according to Joseph.
“To my understanding, they were in the building when the weather system occurred,” Joseph said.
Seated at folding tables with a handful of neighbors at the Naplate Village Hall, Retiree Mike McGrath was at home with his wife, watching the Weather Channel when they heard the sirens. Moments later, the tornado swept down his street, ripping his neighbor’s 40-foot tall cottonwood tree in half and depositing it on top of McGrath’s house.
McGrath and his wife, huddled in a corner of their dining room, were untouched.
“When we got out and looked around, and saw it all, you just think,’Are we all right?’ And you look yourself over — because there’s no mirror, no glass anywhere. Every bit was shattered.”
Up and down his block, McGrath said most homes sustained at least some damage, if not total destruction.
The American Red Cross set up a reception center at the Ottawa High School for those displaced by the storms. Spokeswoman Joy Squier said they are also working to help make sure the nursing home residents are placed in other facilities, with their families or with others who can help give them shelter.
In Woodford County — near Peoria — storms damaged up to 12 homes, according to Joseph.
The storms prompted Gov. Bruce Rauner to activate the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield to ensure state personnel and equipment could be quickly deployed if needed to help local emergency responders with public safety issues following “tornado touchdowns in several areas of Illinois.”
Joseph said the state sent seven troopers to help with traffic control and security in Ottawa, while the MABAS system — Mutual Aid Box Alarm System — was activated in Naplate, population 523, to provide emergency rapid response and operations.
Rauner will survey the tornado damage at the LaSalle County Convalescent Center at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The storms hit southeastern Kendall County, northern Will County, northern Grundy County and southeastern Cook County on Tuesday evening, according to the National Weather Service. And while the tornado warnings had expired by about 6:45 p.m. a tornado watch was in effect for northwest Indiana and northeastern Illinois until 10 p.m.
A flood advisory was in effect for southeastern Cook, southern Kendall and parts of Livingston, LaSalle and Grundy counties where heavy rain pummeled the area and was expected to flood portions of the area.
Weather spotters tweeted photos of multiple unconfirmed tornado touchdowns.
O’Hare Airport had canceled 115 flights, while Midway Airport canceled 27 flights due to the storms, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Residents dealing with flooding will have to deal with more rain on Wednesday, which is then expected to turn to snow, according to the weather service. The temperature will fall to about 37 degrees by Wednesday evening.
The hectic weather will continue into Thursday when the Chicago area could see a mix of rain and show showers.