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‘Craziest 45 seconds of my life’: Tornado tears through western suburbs, critically injuring 1 and damaging over 100 homes

The tornado also smashed cars, spewed debris and downed power lines throughout cities including Naperville, Woodridge, Darien and Burr Ridge.

Debris from a home destroyed by severe weather is shown in Naperville, Monday, June 21, 2021.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

In the early morning hours Monday, neighbors in suburbs across the Chicago area emerged from their homes after a tornado ripped through the area late Sunday night, damaging more than a hundred homes and injuring several people, including a woman who was in critical condition.

“Unbelievable,” a homeowner said while staring at a home missing its roof and a wall in Woodridge. The “craziest 45 seconds of my life,” said another. “You could hear the metal literally ripping off of the buildings,” said a woman in Darien. Others said it sounded like a train went by — overhead.

And then, “as fast as it came, it was gone,” as Joseph Palacios, of Woodridge, recalled.

The neighbors came together hours after a tornado touchdown was confirmed about 11:10 p.m. near Route 53 and 75th Street in Woodridge, according to the National Weather Service said. The tornado — packing winds of up to 135 mph — also hit portions of Naperville, Downers Grove, Darien and Burr Ridge, smashing cars, ripping roofs off homes, downing power lines, shearing off garage doors, uprooting large trees and spewing debris thousands of feet into the air.

Naperville reported at least eight people taken to Edward Hospital; one who had been in critical condition was upgraded Monday to fair condition. At least 125 homes were damaged, 16 of them considered uninhabitable. In Woodridge, three adults were taken to hospitals, according to Lisle-Woodridge Fire District Deputy Fire Chief Steve Demas.

“It’s shocking to see the devastation — all the trees are just gone, [as well as] people’s houses,” Palacios said.

Palacios comforted his wife as she wiped tears from her eyes. “It’s hard seeing it in the daylight,” she said.

“It definitely is because it’s home,” her husband added. “Just to see it torn up, it’s obviously never going to look the same ever again.”

Earlier in Woodridge, Nate Casey, 16, strummed his guitar as he sat in a lawn chair with his mother, Bridget Casey, in their driveway around 4 a.m. Monday. The entire second floor of their house was gone, and their garage was destroyed.

The home is in the 7800 block of Woodridge Drive, one of the areas hit hardest by the storm.

Nate said he was watching TV when the storm rolled through. “I just heard a loud crash and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, what are my brothers up to?’ I go look and I see the sky, and then I hear my brothers screaming from the room.”

Nate, a student at Downers Grove South High School, helped his mother get his three younger siblings to the basement. He grabbed some of his camping equipment and scout gear just to be safe before going down himself.

“I just can’t believe it happened, you know? It’s not something that you see too often or at all, and it’s just scary that everything just comes crashing in,” Nate said. “Something that I was happy to see, that was not broken, was my dad’s ashes, but there’s really nothing else.”

Bridget Casey said she plans to live with her sister while their house gets repaired, though she doesn’t know how long that will take.

“I was just happy that everybody was OK,” she said.

A person who lives behind Casey brought her some personal items, including pictures and her children’s birth certificates, that he found in his backyard. “That means the world to me,” she said. “They didn’t have to do that.”

Down the street, Donna Suchecki joined a few of her neighbors in a driveway around 3:30 a.m. They sipped wine and moonshine out of blue plastic cups and talked about the damage.

“It’s overwhelming. All of us are like, ‘Oh my God, this really happened.’ It’s kind of a dream, you see it on TV, you see shows, you see stuff like that on tornados and … then you come out here and you see the cops, you see the fire trucks and stuff and you’re just like, ‘Wow,’” Suchecki said.

Heaps of trees covered Suchecki’s front lawn, but “luckily nothing hit” the house, she said. Her fence was smashed under a tree, though she said it needed to be replaced anyway.

Across the street, two cars sat on a slab of cement where the garage once was. Suchecki said it was uprooted and tossed into the backyard, where it hit a power line, leaving the block without power.

Storm damage in Naperville’s Ranchview neighborhood Monday, June 21, 2021.
Storm damage in Naperville’s Ranchview neighborhood Monday, June 21, 2021.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

“It’s crazy to go through this,” she said. “That’s a traumatic event.”

Debris 10,000 feet in the atmosphere, winds up to 135 mph

The tornado lifted debris 10,000 feet into the atmosphere, “a clearcut sign to us that we have a tornado of some significance,” said weather service meteorologist Matt Friedlein.

Based on the damage, the tornado’s wind speeds were likely between 111 and 135 mph, Friedlein said. Surveyors were inspecting damage Monday to confirm if other potential tornados hit areas including Aurora and Hobart, Indiana.

In Naperville, officials said there were power outages and gas leaks reported.

Crystal Porter was on her way home from her mother’s home in Joliet when she got a tornado warning alert. She said it took her five attempts to find a way to her home in the 2700 block of Everglade Avenue.

Ultimately, the retired military veteran had to move a tree to do so. After checking her dogs, Porter walked around the streets to assess the damage.

Porter, 27, noticed firefighters doing a search and rescue at a partially destroyed home and removing a cage filled with doves. With the owners not home, Porter grabbed a dog crate from her garage and rescued the birds.

“At least they’re not left out in the street,” she said.

Southwest suburbs hit, too

In Darien, Maureen Malloy recalls the lights going off around 11:15 p.m. Sunday as the winds picked up.

“You could hear the metal literally ripping off of the buildings,” Malloy said. “The wind was so strong that it was coming through the bottom and side of my door and it was blowing my hair back.”

She said that only lasted for about two minutes, but she waited until close to 1 a.m. to assess the damage. The entire street was blocked with trees, and a five-story weeping willow fell inches from her home.

“We are all very fortunate,” Malloy said. “These trees seriously could have killed somebody.”

Nicole Poletti was in the basement of her house in Burr Ridge with her husband and two kids when she heard a loud bang.

“It sounded like an explosion, and it happened in a split second,” she said. It was not until a bit later into the night that her husband was able to walk upstairs and see that noise was a tree falling onto their house.

She left with her kids to stay with her parents for the night, but Monday morning she saw the full extent of the damage.

“We have broken windows, damage to our roof, and actual branches going through our ceiling to our attic. A couple of trees fell onto our house,” she said. Their front yard and driveway were littered with so many broken branches it was hard to see the ground, she said. Her car was also completely destroyed.

Last year, a tornado touched down on Chicago’s North Side and traveled three miles into Lake Michigan. Winds of 110 mph took down trees and cut power to thousands, but no serious injuries were reported.

In 2015, five people were injured in a a tornado that hit Coal City, about 50 miles southwest of Chicago.

In 1990, the strongest tornado ever recorded in the Chicago area tore through Plainfield, killing 29 people and injuring more than 300. The twister cut a 15-mile swath on its way to Crest Hill.