Six months later, tornado victims focus on recovery

Kevin Haas

Twelve-year-old Dustin Nichols admits it’s hard for him to stay away from the family’s new weather radio when a storm is brewing.

Who could blame him? Six months ago, the Nicholses were blindsided by a rare winter tornado that ripped their home off its foundation in northern Boone County.

Dustin was knocked unconscious and later given four staples in his head. His grandmother, Jeanette, was nearly killed.

“We ran to the basement when we saw a horizontal wall of water come by,” Dustin said.

Six months after a rare January twister tore a path through Boone County, people are rebuilding what they can and trying to get back home.

Four families were displaced by the tornado after their homes were declared unliveable.

“I don’t like this completely uprooted feeling,” said John Nichols, who has been staying with his family in temporary housing in Candlewick Lake.

The Nicholses have built an outbuilding on their property along Beaverton Road. They finished it two to three weeks ago.

The home is next. Optimistically, they want to move in by October. The home’s foundation had yet to be laid Wednesday.

They won’t try to replicate their two-story wood home. Instead a half-brick ranch is the plan. Joseph Nichols, 69, said he doesn’t stop to think about all they’ve lost.

“We have to keep our spirits up. That’s the main thing,” he said.

His wife, Jeanette, 65, was hospitalized for 12 days after the storm. She was the most seriously injured person in Boone County, but her broken ribs and collarbone have healed now, Joseph said.

Increased preparedness

The destructive storm prompted several county agencies to up their tornado preparedness. There have been nine tornado sirens added in Boone County since Jan. 7, said Jeff Ryba of Braniff Communications, which operates all 26 of the county’s sirens. A proposed siren in western Belvidere will make 27.

Countywide, about $2.6 million in damage was caused to homes.

That figure was calculated using home assessments, but officials say the estimate is low because it doesn’t include personal property — like TVs, appliances, and furniture, Edwards Apple Orchard stock or vehicles damaged — nor does it take into account the costs of construction.

“That number could easily run much higher,” said Senior Building Inspector Drew Bliss.

About $1 million in damage to roads was done as well, which township highway departments have patched up.

Orchard will be open

Building frames and new construction have been popping up at Edwards Apple Orchard, the popular tourist site that lost several buildings in the tornado. Owners are aiming to open in time for apple-picking season, but they said it’s too early to determine how much will be completed.

“We will be open in the fall, but what kind of housing we’ll have and what buildings will be open is too early to say,” owner Ken Hall said in June.

Frequent rain and snow have made it hard for workers to repair what they’ve lost. Chuck Kastning, a dairy farmer in rural Capron, lost two silos, a dairy barn, part of another barn and more. He’s still deciding how and what to rebuild.

“Shorty after (the cleanup) it snowed and it froze and we really couldn’t get anything done,” Kastning said.

The storm has had lingering effects on his dairy business, too. Two cows aborted babies and milk production has gone down for others, he said. A barn collapsed on 16 calves, which all survived. Though none of his animals was killed, Kastning said they haven’t quite recovered.

It will probably be a year before they start producing milk the way they should, Kastning said.

“You just have to learn to accept what Mother Nature puts out to you,” he said. “You have to accept it and make the best of it.”

Kevin Haas can be reached at (815) 544-3452 or

What happened

Jan. 7: For just the second time in 60 years of record keeping, a tornado struck northern Illinois in January.

It hit around 3:35 p.m. northeast of Poplar Grove in the area of Beaverton, Centerville and Stimes roads and caused $2.6 million in damage to homes, an estimate that doesn’t include the loss of personal property or figure in the high costs to reconstruct structures.

There were 19 homes and 44 structures damaged. Four families were displaced by the tornado, their homes declared not fit to live in.

One person was critically injured; no one was killed.

What's next

Repairing and rebuilding remains the focus of several residents, and some said frequent rains and snow slowed construction.

Government officials throughout the county have taken steps to protect patrons with more outdoor warning systems.

A total of nine sirens have been added in Boone County since Jan. 7. The city of Belvidere may put up the tenth soon.

“We really need to get a closer siren out here,” said 12-year-old Dustin Nichols, who needed four staples in his head after being knocked out when his home was completely destroyed.