Naperville, Woodridge residents, workers recount storm’s terror and begin recovery
Amid the storm’s wreckage, longtime residents, firefighters and Red Cross volunteers in the western suburbs step up to serve the communities they love.
A Naperville resident on Hedg Court had just finished reading his book and turned off his bedroom light at 11:01 p.m. when Sunday’s tornado hit at 11:03 p.m. He didn’t hear any warning sirens or receive any cellphone notifications about the storm.
“All of a sudden, I hear this high wind and then a loud roar,” said Michel Laurent, who has lived in Naperville 18 years. “The house was shaking. I knew right there that this was not your normal thunderstorm. I went to the window, which was not a wise thing to do, when I saw the tree and the lightning surge. It was almost like a black-and-white silver screen in my mind.”
That tree — an oak over 10,000 pounds — collapsed the structure of his neighbor’s home.
Debris and smaller trees lay in Laurent’s backyard, but his residence was not damaged. Tuesday afternoon, tree removal services were in Hedg Court, safely clearing the way.
Across the street, the roof of Naperville Fire Department Station #2 had partially collapsed. Some Fire Department personnel were posted in a temporary shelter the neighbors had helped to build, while others assessed the significant water damage inside the station.
Naperville Fire Lt. Kevin Schuler was at home when the storm hit, but his fellow firefighters were at the station when a large pine tree pierced it.
“The picture — it didn’t do it justice,” Schuler said. “Seeing the big trees down was quite surprising, but the building was built in 1977, so it needed a remodel anyway.”
The station is Schuler’s second home, the place he came to for some peace and quiet after responding to emergency situations. On Tuesday, wood chippers blared. The scent of pine was impossible to miss. But Schuler soldiered on, allocating resources to the community while weathering the aftermath of this storm.
Sunday’s storm entered Woodridge after ripping through Naperville, coming from the west near Route 53, and traveled about 3 miles total, passing over Woodward Avenue before entering Darien, according to the GIS Consortium of local governments.
At the American Red Cross official shelter in Jefferson Junior High in Woodridge, Tuesday’s foot traffic of storm victims was slow but consistent. Families walked through the junior-high gym, tired but relieved to have space to rest and pick up food, water and hygiene essentials — toothbrushes were the most popular.
“A trickle of people came through today, as people realized that we’re here and that we’re offering food and shelter for those whose houses don’t have power yet,” the American Red Cross of Illinois communications manager Holly Baker said Tuesday afternoon. “People can come here if they need to take a little emotional break from what’s happening outside. Our volunteers are here with smiles and snacks, and they’re ready to help in any way that they can.”
Baker said most residents just want an escape from the reality of ruin. The shelter had one visitor stay with them Monday night and expects to receive more people this week. The Red Cross is also delivering meals, most vehicles returning to the shelter empty after completing rounds.
West Suburban Community Pantry executive director Laura Coyle also said she expects numbers to increase toward the end of this week and early next week, as residents take inventory of necessities. As someone who has worked five years in the community affected by the storm, Coyle teared up when describing the fear she felt Sunday night as the storm headed in the direction of some of her co-workers.
“We’re mostly volunteer run,” Coyle said. “And we had a couple of volunteers who were trapped in their home from trees that had fallen in front of their doors and things like that. And then, knowing that if we had damage here at the pantry, then we wouldn’t be able to be here to support the community. I mean, my mind was just racing.”
The pantry was untouched by the tornado’s wrath and is operating normally, but Coyle asks that people donate diapers, pet food and shelf stable food items. Normal business hours have been extended, and a hotline has been set up for emergency services by pressing zero when you call their phone number.