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Diamond, Coal City damaged by tornado

Published: Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013 9:58 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 5:32 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Photo by Heidi Litchfield - For the Morris Daily Herald)
Melissa Gates (left) and Laurie Kiley (right) exit through the space where the front window sat. The duplex where Melissa Gates and Brad Melville live was damaged in Sunday's tornado. They were not home when it hit. They returned to find their dog OK.

DIAMOND - A Sunday morning tornado that cut a 3-mile path of destruction in Grundy and Will counties left four injured and more than 100 buildings with structural damage.

The tornado, which touched down shortly before noon, caused the most damage in Diamond and Coal City. It destroyed buildings, uprooted trees, left power lines dangling and closed roads as emergency crews worked to assist those in need. Clean-up efforts are expected to continue Monday.

The tornado was one of dozens reported Sunday as severe thunderstorms swept through the region. The winds were so strong that people in Morris reported finding mail and photographs from hard-hit Washington, Ill., where a tornado leveled much of that community.

“(Damage) was mostly contained in Diamond. We did have commercial and residential collapses,” said Nick Doerfler, spokesman for the Coal City Fire Protection District.

The National Weather Service categorized the Grundy County tornado as an EF-2, which means winds were blowing at more than 110 miles per hour. Local spotters and authorities said the tornado in Coal City was on the ground for “a long distance,” according Grundy County Emergency Management Agency Director Jim Lutz. It was spotted off Route 47 and traveled on until it was out of the county.

By 4 p.m. Sunday buildings hit in Coal City had been cleared of any people who could have been trapped inside.

“Initially we thought there was, but we searched all the buildings there,” Lutz said shortly after 3 p.m.

“I do not know of any serious injuries or fatalities in our area,” Lutz said. “We’ve cleared most of the damaged buildings in Grundy County.”

Schools in Coal City School District 1 will be closed Monday as the buses used to transport students were damaged.

"Illinois Central School Bus was hit hard by the tornado. It damaged most of their buses. They only have five working buses,” Superintendent Kent Bugg said.

Route 113, as well as Berta and Spring roads, remained closed Sunday as crews worked to remove damage and remove downed power lines, and in the case of Route 113, clean up a propane spill.

Diamond Estates subdivision hit the hardest by the storm, local officials said at a news conference Sunday night held in Braidwood. Other areas with intense damage included Berta and Spring roads, the bus barn on Broadway in Coal City and Christian Life Assembly Church, as well as Chrome Rack Bar and the Shell station that sit near each other at the intersection of Routes 113 and Interstate 55.

Sgt. Mark Simon of the Illinois Conservation Police described EZ Living RV park as "devastated."

Shelters set up in Coal City

Diamond resident John Dixon said his mother Katherine's home near Interstate 55 and Route 113 was completely leveled by the storm.

"It's totally gone," Dixon said. "Luckily she's in Arizona right now. We called and told her and she said, 'I'm going to my Euchre game, you guys can handle it.'"

The Red Cross set up an emergency shelter Sunday night at Coal City High School, and the Coal City United Methodist Church also opened its doors to those displaced by the storm.

Simon and four other Illinois Conservation police were on hand in Diamond to direct traffic and assist local officials. His team was part of a joint effort of law enforcement and fire officials from several towns including Channahon, Morris, Gardner, Braidwood, and Coal City who responded to the scene of the tornado.

“We went through the houses one by one and cleared them," he said. “Many were evacuated because they are unsafe with the high winds that are continuing.”

Diamond Mayor Teresa Kernc said it could be six or more months before Diamond residents displaced by Sunday's storm are able to get back into their homes.

"My home was damaged in the 1990 Plainfield tornado so I know how devastating this is," Kernc said during the news conference. "We are going to do everything we can to get them back home."

Doerfler confirmed that more than 100 buildings have structural damage due to the storm. Few details were released about the four injuries: Authorities said one was in critical condition.

"All injured are being treated at Morris Hospital," Doerfler said.

Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson said a curfew was put in place for Diamond Estates from 8 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m Monday. People wishing to enter the subdivision may not do so without proof of residency in the subdivision.

"People can leave and go to their relatives knowing that their stuff is going to be safe," Severson said.

Kernc asked that for Sunday night, those who do not live in Diamond avoid the village so emergency crews would have easier access to the those in need.

The state has yet to declare Sunday's storm a disaster, but Kernc said she plans to apply for disaster relief if Diamond is eligible.

"We've got a lot of damage so we will absolutely take advantage of a grant opportunity if it helps us rebuild," Kernc said.

Those wanting to drop off donations may do so beginning Monday at Diamond Village Hall, 1750 E. Division St. An official list of items needed was not released Sunday night, but Kernc said the village will accept anything people want to provide.

"We'll try to put together a list of people who have been displaced so if people want to help families directly, they can as well," Kernc said. "We've had offers to help from everywhere. The support has been wonderful."

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