The tornado appeared to start in Naperville, then cut a destructive path through Woodridge, Darien and Downers Grove.
A tornado ripped through the western suburbs late Sunday night, damaging more than a hundred homes and injuring several people, including a woman in critical condition.
The tornado touchdown was confirmed about 11:10 p.m. near Route 53 and 75th Street in Woodridge, the National Weather Service said. The tornado — packing winds of more than 100 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 five people taken to Edward Hospital, one of them in critical 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.
Emergency crews continued going door to door checking on residents into the morning. As the sun rose, more and more people came out of their homes, some walking their pets as they surveyed the damage, many taking photos and videos in disbelief.
“Unbelievable,” a woman said while staring at a home missing its roof and a wall in Woodridge. Around her, generators hummed and a tractor began clearing streets and pushing away fallen trees.
Many people said they were already in bed when the sirens went off. Some recalled the moment of silence before the rain and wind picked up fiercely.
One neighbor called it the “craziest 45 seconds of my life.” Others said it sounded like a train passing over their homes and they could feel the vibrations. “As fast as it came, it was gone,” Joseph Palacios said.
“This doesn’t happen around here,” Palacios said. “This is something totally new and it’ll probably never happen again… It’s shocking to see the devastation, all the trees are just gone, people’s houses — you don’t see this here.”
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. “It’s quiet, it’s peaceful here… Just to see it torn up, it’s obviously never going to look the same ever again.”
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. The entire second floor of their house was gone, and their garage was partially destroyed.
The home is in the 7800 block of Woodridge Drive, believed to be 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, 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. It’s all material, I’m still worried about the bearded dragon that’s stuck up there but we’re going to get him in the morning.”
He said he was waiting for the streets to be cleared so his aunt could get them.
“It’s been long,” Bridget Casey said as she pulled a blanket tighter around her shoulders. “Just trying to make sure that we can get everything taken care of, we have all the important stuff and waiting for the roads to be cleared enough so my sisters can come.”
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, I think we’re … 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.’ … We got lucky, it could’ve been something really seriously,” 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.
“When I see this in the morning tomorrow, we’ll deal with it when we have to,” Suchecki, 45, said.
Across the street, two cars sat untouched 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.
“It could be worse,” said Suchecki. “It’s crazy to go through this, that’s a traumatic event.”
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 they were still assessing the damage and checking on residents.
“Our first priority was making sure that the families were OK, but now we are moving on to handling the damage,” said Linda LaCloche, Naperville communications director.
“We have power outages in the area and have electrical teams checking on that. We also had some gas leaks reported, so Nicor Gas is going door to door to shut off all the gas lines.”
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.
“I couldn’t believe it. I’ve lived here for 27 years and I’ve never seen trees come down here like this. Ever,” Porter said.
Porter 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.
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.