Tornado town: 'It's a total disaster'
Jeanette Nichols never made it to the basement.
Emergency crews found her covered in debris in a field next to her Beaverton Road home.
Her ribs are broken. Her collarbone is broken in two places. Her lung had been punctured.
Her husband, Joseph Nichols, was in Oklahoma when the tornado swept through Poplar Grove on Monday afternoon.
“I tried to call, and I just heard the wind in the phone,” he said. “That’s all I could hear.”
Jeanette Nichols was one of four people injured in Boone County in the tornado, none fatally — a miracle, residents said as they emerged Tuesday to a landscape wrought with destruction and littered with debris. They discovered dead horses lying in fields, homes and barns flattened or damaged, and neighbors reaching out to help after the twister tore a 13-mile path through Boone and McHenry counties.
Nichols’ grandson, Dustin Nichols, is one of the four, in good condition Tuesday at OSF Saint Anthony Medical Center in Rockford. He is being treated for foot and head injuries.
“He’s bruised up really bad, but no broken bones,” Joseph Nichols said.
Jeanette Nichols was home with her son, John, and grandchildren Dustin, 12, and Toni, 13, when the tornado struck, Joseph Nichols said.
The Nichols’ home of more than five years was ripped from its foundation, leaving the basement completely exposed and the land around it covered with the family’s belongings.
“It’s a total disaster,” Joseph Nichols said.
Jeanette Nichols remained in critical condition at OSF Saint Anthony on Tuesday night.
The weather pattern that caused the tornado was more typical of early May than early January.
Originally, two tornadoes were reported in Boone and McHenry counties. But damage surveys conducted by National Weather Service personnel revealed one continuous path from a single tornado.
The tornado was rated EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, about 100 yards in diameter, with winds ranging from 136 to 165 mph. The most severe tornadoes are rated EF6.
And Mike McIntyre saw it from the beginning.
The Poplar Grove resident, an assistant chief with the North Boone Fire Protection District, was driving home Monday afternoon when he saw something he’d never seen before — the sky began swirling.
“We could see it in the clouds. You could see it starting to form,” he said.
McIntyre headed for the fire station, about two miles away from where the funnel cloud met the earth.
“In the time it took me to drive one mile ... it had dropped and was gone,” McIntyre said. “There were about 12 or 15 of us already at the station waiting for the call. ... We knew it was close.”
Seven or eight homes sustained major damage, Emergency Management Coordinator Sandra Rogers said. Seven more had minor damage, and more than 35 structures, including pole barns, garages and silos, were partially or mostly destroyed. And Rogers hasn’t completed her damage survey yet; there is more to review tomorrow.
Homeowners are responsible for their own cleanup, and all but one owner was insured, Rogers said.
“It looked like a bomb went off,” said Tim Davis, one of the first volunteer firefighters to arrive at Edwards Apple Orchard. “It was chaos. ... Tractors were turned over. Trees were stuck in the side of buildings like darts.”
“It’s not like seeing it on TV,” said John Ragland, a fellow first responder. “It’s different seeing it up close and firsthand.”
Pieces of tin from the side of outbuildings were wrapped around tree trunks, some two or three times around, Ragland said. A large tree was pulled from the ground and dropped on its side.
Ragland, an assistant chief with North Boone Fire, spent a good part of the evening Monday on the roads intersecting the tornado’s path. He and other firefighters took chain saws to fallen trees, cutting them into smaller pieces to clear paths for emergency crews.
“To have just four injuries, I think we’re fortunate,” Ragland said. “A mile or even a half-mile in either direction, and it would been a completely differently story. The way it was, it cut through country. It’s a rural area, but there are subdivisions not far away.”
Rob Humphries, an assistant chief pilot with Law Enforcement Aviation Coalition, was above the devastation Tuesday in a helicopter, assessing damage and searching for others who may have been hurt.
“You can see massive barns just flattened and homes just flattened. Right next to it, the neighbor next door, there won’t even be a tile missing off the top of the house,” he said.
No human victims were found, although Humphries said he saw quite a few dead animals, including horses.
At Edwards Apple Orchard, nearly 50 friends, family members and community volunteers spent the day clearing debris.
The orchard, a Boone County landmark and popular tourist destination, was one of several properties to take a direct hit by the twister. Dozens of people drove past the orchard to see for themselves what the tornado had done.
Boone County Board Chairman Cathy Ward said she understood why so many people drove by.
“Millions of people have been there over the years,” Ward said. “They want to see how bad it is.”
Staff writers Geri Nikolai and Bridget Tharp contributed to this report.
Staff writer Corina Curry can be reached at 815-987-1395 or firstname.lastname@example.org.