Residents begin to clean up after tornado rips through western suburbanson June 22, 2021 at 3:20 am

After the tornado passed, Jean-Philippe Ducreux emerged from his Naperville home to find his neighbor’s home had collapsed and its owner was sifting through the rubble to find his wife — amid the smell and hiss of a gas leak.

“The husband was injured but good enough and said ‘my wife should be around here,'” said Ducreux, 51, who moved to the United States from France three years ago for work.

The men followed the sound of her screams.

“We unburied her,” said Ducreux, who worried about a gas explosion as the pair, aided by a firefighter who arrived on the scene, worked to free her. “I think she was pretty lucky because there was two sides and a top around her, two walls and a door; she was pretty protected, but she was hurt.”

The woman, Savita Patel, was taken to Edward Hospital, and she was in fair condition Monday evening. She was one of at least eight people who received treatment there, according to the City of Naperville Facebook page.

The Patels’ home, near 75th Street and Ranchview Drive, lay in the path of a EF-3 tornado that packed winds reaching 140 mph.

The twister touched down in Naperville about 11:02 p.m. in the area of the Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve and headed east nearly parallel to 75th Street and into the communities of Woodridge, Darien and Burr Ridge before petering out in Willow Springs, according to National Weather Service Meteorologist Brett Borchardt.

It was on the ground for about 20 minutes, moved at a speed of about 45 to 50 mph and traveled about 10 miles, smashing cars, ripping roofs off homes, downing power lines, shearing off garage doors, uprooting large trees and spewing debris as high 19,000 feet, or 3.59 miles into the sky, Borchardt said.

In Naperville, 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.

On Monday, the goodwill of neighbors who showed up in droves to help clean up the mess was on full display.

A platoon of community members, including dozens of high school athletes, descended on the site of the Patels’ home — the hardest hit in the area — to do whatever they could to help.

“I came over this morning after practice,” said Ayden Lutes, 17, a member of the Naperville Central High School wrestling team. “I felt terrible. It sucks when your fellow community members are in need. And then I saw the football guys come out so I texted a couple of wrestling guys to come out … we’ve decided to replace our weightlifting sessions with debris-moving sessions instead.”

Some volunteers removed heavy debris. Others sifted through the mess to recover family pictures and other precious items.

Anna Lindflott, 21, fished dozens of colorful bracelets from a neighbor’s above-ground pool that was reduced to a murky puddle when parts of the Patel home flew onto it.

“Anything we can do to help,” said Lindflott, who lives nearby.

The pool belongs to Katie Long Piper, who survived the tornado in her basement with her son and her 85-year-old mother as their home shifted on its foundation but remained standing.

“It didn’t sound like a freight train; it sounded like explosions,” said Long Piper, who runs Naperville Central High School’s in-school television network and coordinates school activities, like dances.

A piece of wood crashed through her basement window well as Long Piper laid on her belly with her mom and son.

“I’m so grateful I got everyone in the basement and that our house didn’t get sucked up,” she said while expressing love and concern for her less fortunate neighbors.

“They’re awesome, great people,” she said.

Photos on social media catalogued the damage across the affected suburbs.

As chainsaws growled and bulldozers crunched over splintered tree limbs, Kris Florczak eyed the meager pile of possessions she’d managed to save — a stack of family photographs, her wedding ring, a ceramic figurine of the Virgin Mary.

“Oh my God, it survived!” the 70-year-old widow cried out as her sister handed her a hand-made wooden creche.

Florczak’s surprise wasn’t unwarranted, given that daylight poured into her kitchen from where a roof had once been. Chunks of brick wall littered her garden and all that remained of her side windows was a twisted wooden frame with bits of glass jutting from it like shark teeth.

“Right now, I’m just glad I’m alive, the dogs are OK and family is here,” said Florczak, who somehow managed to survive a direct hit when a tornado ripped through Woodridge late Sunday night.

Kris Florczak, 70, salvages what she can from her home, including family photos and heirlooms, on Janes Avenue near Evergreen Lane in Woodridge after a tornado ripped through the western suburbs overnight, Monday morning, June 21, 2021. | Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times
Kris Florczak, 70, salvages what she can from her home on Janes Avenue near Evergreen Lane in Woodridge.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The tornado began its path of destruction near Naperville, where it packed wind speeds near 140 mph, and moved into Woodridge near Route 53 and 75th Street about 11:10 p.m., the National Weather Service said. It then moved west to east into Darien, Burr Ridge and Willow Springs.

Survey teams found damage caused by the twister was consistent with an EF-3 tornado, the weather service said, citing preliminary information. Teams will continue to survey the damage in the coming days.

The twister, measuring about three blocks wide, traveled some 3 miles from west to east across the village, village officials said during a news briefing Monday. Mayor Gina Cunningham said she’s lived in the village since 1967 and was unaware of another tornado touching down in that time.

“During that path, there was a lot of destruction, mostly of homes and some multifamily dwellings,” said Woodridge Police Chief Brian Cunningham.

A total of 100 structures were damaged “significantly,” village officials said.

About 2,100 customers in Woodridge were still without power as of 9 p.m. Monday, according to a spokesperson for ComEd. Overall, about 61,000 customers were affected by the storm, and 4,600 are still without power.

But the “vast majority” of affected customers were expected to have their power restored by 11 p.m. Monday, the spokesperson said, with some customers in the hardest hit areas to get power back by Tuesday afternoon.

Florczak had known a storm was on the way Sunday night — she just didn’t know how bad.

She received a text from her nephew about 10:45 p.m. He said it was going to be no ordinary storm. Some 15 minutes later, she was in her downstairs bathroom with her rescue dogs, Eeyore and Payson.

“God protect me in here,” she prayed.

She heard glass shattering, metal twisting and rain lashing her home. And even though the twister tore off the roof and caved in her front door, she remained unharmed in her bathroom. By 11:20 p.m., it was all over. Firefighters had to cut a hole in her garage door so that she could escape, she said.

As her sister, Sandra Baar, handed her items from within the shattered remains of her home Monday, Florczak said: “I’m too stunned right now. I needed a new roof. There are things that needed to be done in the kitchen.”

Mark Kasper looked out at the devastation in his backyard and chuckled at the sliver of fence that remained standing — a section he’d propped up temporarily with a two-by-four plank. Inside the home he shares with his wife, Jamie Kasper, soggy pink roof insulation dangled down through a gaping hole in the living room ceiling. The power was still out Monday morning, and Jamie Kasper wandered through her darkened home with a lamp strapped to her head.

“We definitely had a guardian angel looking over us,” Jamie Kasper, 29, said.

The Kaspers don’t have a basement. As the tornado approached, they ran to their bathroom because it doesn’t have any windows.

“Subconsciously, over the years, I’ve always kept that in mind as an emergency hiding spot, but I never thought I’d have to use it,” Mark Kasper said.

He described a “very scary quiet” before the tornado blasted through.

“Within a few moments, we heard the wind pick up,” he said. “We ran for cover in our bathroom. I’m talking moments from when we closed the bathroom door — windows exploded like a bomb went off. The house shook.”

The Kaspers huddled on their knees in the bathroom. He said the worst part was the smell of leaking gas.

“From there, it was a blur. I remember pulling trees off my Jeep to get away from that,” he said.

Mark Kasper, who said he has insurance, was waiting for a chainsaw to arrive Monday morning so that he could begin cutting up the huge branches littering his yard.

Jamie and Mark Kasper survey the damage to their home on Evergreen Lane near Chestnut Avenue in Woodridge after a tornado ripped through the western suburbs overnight, Monday morning, June 21, 2021.
Jamie and Mark Kasper survey the damage to their home in Woodridge after a tornado ripped through the western suburbs overnight.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

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