NEW: National Weather Service preliminarily rates tornado as an EF-4
NEW: At least two people are dead as a result of storms in Illinois, officials say
NEW: Illinois governor declares DeKalb and Ogle counties state disaster areas
Geraldine Schultz, 67, and Jacklyn Klosa, 69, were neighbors in the rural Illinois hamlet of Fairdale.
On Thursday night, their close-knit community was ravaged by a tornado that shredded homes and ripped trees bare of leaves and most limbs. Only the thickest branches remained.
Schultz and Klosa were killed, officials said.
One woman was pulled from the rubble where her home once stood. The other was found in her tub, where she tried to ride out the storm.
“Apparently she had no basement,” DeKalb County coroner Dennis Miller told reporters. “She told her sister last evening that she was going to the shower to take cover.”
They died in the “most devastating spots in this town,” said Kirkland Community Fire District Chief Chad Connell.
The National Weather Service Friday preliminarily rated the tornado as an EF-4 – the second most powerful category, with winds between 166 and 200 mph.
In Fairdale, nearly 20 homes were leveled, Connell said.
“We hope and pray that that is all,” Gov. Bruce Rauner said Friday. “We’re very blessed that more people were not hurt.”
Ogle County Sheriff Brian VanVickle’s house in Rochelle, Illinois, was a mound of rubble when he arrived at dawn Friday.
Fortunately, his wife and children were out of town when the tornado struck Thursday night. VanVickle was working at the time, he said. His brother-in-law and sister-in-law, who live across the street, were also out. Their home was leveled as well; at least 30 houses were destroyed by the twister. Nearly 50 homes sustained significant damage.
“The family is safe,” the sheriff said. “That’s all that matters. By God’s grace, nobody was home. … Things can be replaced.”
Even his dog survived: It was found in the ruins, resting atop the mattress of VanVickle’s daughter.
At least 20 people were treated at local hospitals, with six admitted overnight, Rauner said. One person suffered serious injuries. Four people were staying at a Red Cross shelter.
Rauner on Friday declared DeKalb and Ogle counties state disaster areas.
Connell said rescue teams have been ferreting through piles of rubble by hand. Cadaver dogs were assisting in the search.
“We think we have everybody accounted for,” DeKalb County Sheriff Roger Scott said. “Right now we have no specific person that’s not accounted for.”
In her 40 years in Rochelle, Cathy Olson had never seen a tornado that big.
“I saw the top of the funnel cloud, and it was absolutely massive,” she said.
She watched the hulking gray twister grind past her town Thursday, tearing up its fringes. Officials said most of the damage occurred from 6 to 9 p.m.
Rochelle was fortunate. In nearby Kirkland, debris was so thick on the roads, responders searching for trapped residents could not yet assess the damage or injuries, fire officials said.
On Thursday, a video surfaced on YouTube of a massive twister barreling across an open field, barely missing farmhouses and barns. Images of the funnel turned up elsewhere on social media.
As many as 14 tornadoes were reported in the rural Midwest on Thursday. A large and dangerous twister tore across fields in Iowa. And a twister touched down 70 miles outside St. Louis.
Tornadoes were reported Wednesday in Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, the Storm Prediction Center said.
Hailstones the size of tennis balls plummeted down on Ashton, Illinois.
It could have been worse as severe tornado damage dotted a path not far from the dense populations of Chicago and Rockford, the state’s third-largest city. The tornado cut a 22-mile path through Ogle County, according to disaster management coordinator Tom Richter.