Gov. Bruce Rauner flew via helicopter to Coal City to tour the tornado-ravaged area, comfort people who’d lost their homes and provide an update on continued search efforts.
“We’re most concerned at the moment about the campground,” Rauner said during a news conference. “There’s a very large campground that was devastated in Lee County. We’re very fortunate that the storm hit on a Monday, when that campground is not full. On a busy weekend that campground can hold as many as 30,000 people.”
Campers may be out of touch with friends and family, he said.
“No one would know . . . that’s the reason we’re so anxious to make sure that every inch over there is searched,” Rauner said, noting officials didn’t have an accurate count of how many people were in the park when the storm hit.
“There are no reported missing persons at the present time,” he said.
A search and rescue team was at the campground Tuesday afternoon, Rauner said.
MORE STORM COVERAGE Weather service confirms 9 tornadoes touched down Monday night Coal City residents wake up to damage after Monday storms, tornado 5 tornado touchdowns confirmed across north central Illinois; thousands without power
Lee County and neighboring Grundy County, which encompasses Coal City, were declared state disaster areas but will likely not reach the threshhold to receive federal assistance, Rauner said.
The National Weather Service confirmed that at least nine tornadoes touched down Monday night.
The tornado that struck Coal City and the Braidwood area was an EF-3 tornado with peak winds of 160 mph, the weather service said Tuesday.
The EF-3 designation is the third highest on the scale that measures the strength of tornadoes. EF-3 tornadoes packs winds of between 136 and 165 mph.
It was one of nine confirmed tornadoes that spun off from one long supercell thunderstorm that moved across northern Illinois Tuesday night. The storm also brought torrential rainfall of 3 to 5 inches to areas already saturated with recent rains.
A second tornado, a high-end EF-2 tornado, left a path about one-half-mile long from Woodhaven Lakes to south of Sublette, with estimated wind speeds reaching 130 mph.
Two other tornadoes, both EF-1 in strength, touched down separately on either side of the village of Harmon, and a third EF-1 touched down near Mendota, the weather service said.
Three other EF-1 tornadoes were confirmed to have touched down to the north of Ottawa, to the north and east of Kankakee, and southwest of Coal City, parallel to the path of the EF-3 tornado.
A ninth tornado, an EF-0, passed south of the village of Herscher, the weather service said.
Survey teams are continuing to investigate other possible tornado damage in LaSalle, Grundy and Kankakee counties over the coming days.
“It’s so scary. It’s such a terrible tragedy,” Rauner said as he walked down a residential street while residents cleaned up debris.
Rauner hugged Diann Rink, who teared up after her husband explained the couple hid in a shower in the their basement as debris flew everywhere before it became quiet.
“We had a flashlight, and I was shining it up into the sky and we new we had lost the roof before we even started upstairs,” Gary Rink said as he stood in front of his home.
The wall to Pat Halloran’s second-floor bedroom was gone. But nearby objects — a magazine open on a dresser, a stack of books on a nightstand — lay untouched. “It’s like the tornado just took what it wanted,” said Halloran’s teenage son, John.
Cole City Mayor Terry Halliday, 51, who just took office, said he’s lived in the community his entire life and had never experienced a tornado until two struck in the past two years.
“A lot of people will just roll up their sleeves and help their neighbor, and we’ll get through this,” he said.
The previous tornado touched down in November 2013. It destroyed entire swaths of Washington, Illinois.
As it sliced northeast through the state, the twister hit Diamond, which abuts Coal City. “We took a graze from that tornado,” Halliday said.
Sirens on Monday sounded at least 30 minutes before the tornado struck Coal City, said Halliday, who added city officials haven’t had time to conduct a complete count of damaged or destroyed properties. “It’s quite high,” he said.
The town has about 5,500 residents.
Donations can be made to a tornado relief fund at cfgrundycounty.com
A ComEd spokesman said electricity has been restored to about 40,000 of the 55,000 customers who lost power since Monday. Others can expect service to resume by Wednesday morning at the latest.