DIAMOND – Joe Pape was speeding down Broadway Street in Coal City.
It was about noon Sunday, and Joe, his wife Lisa, and their two children were coming home from church. They left early when they heard the tornado sirens go off.
“Coming down Broadway, you could see the clouds, black clouds, forming over the subdivision,” Pape recalled. “When we pulled into the driveway, we could see the funnel.”
As the Pape family rushed inside their house in Diamond Estates subdivision at 830 Crystal Lane, Joe felt a pang of regret.
“I saw the funnel and thought, ‘Oh God. What did I do?’ I brought us right into the lion’s den,” he said. “If I would’ve known how bad it was, I would have never left church.”
With only 20 seconds to spare, the Pape family made it to their basement. As Joe Pape listened to his windows breaking and his house’s “breathing,” he said a silent prayer – “God, please let us get through this.”
A few minutes later it was over, and the Pape family walked upstairs to find their house nearly destroyed. Windows, siding, porch, fence, cars, garage – all of it damaged. Joe thinks it could be months before everything is repaired.
The Pape home is one of about 220 buildings in Diamond and Coal City that were damaged by the EF2 tornado that began at 12:22 p.m. Sunday three miles south/southwest of Coal City and ended 11 minutes later four miles north/northeast of Wilmington, according to the National Weather Service.
The tornado’s path reached 12.9 miles and had maximum wind speeds of 122 mph.
Four people were injured by the storm’s power, three were hospitalized. By Monday night one had been treated and released, said Diamond Mayor Terry Kernc, and the other three were in good condition.
Three of the four injuries occurred at a farm house at Berta and Spring roads, just down the street from Coal City Fire Protection District’s Station 2. This location was the fire department’s first call after the storm, according to district spokesman Nick Doerfler.
Firefighters on duty at Station 2 just before the tornado hit could see it coming from the firehouse, Doerfler said. Luckily the station received no damage, but was running on a generator for power Monday. The command center for emergency response was set up there.
Of the 220 homes, Nicor suspended gas service to 29 residences by about 5 p.m. Monday, Doerfler said.
Cost estimates on the damage in the Diamond and Coal City area were not yet available, he said.
Diamond Estates subdivision was one of the worst-hit areas and all day Monday it was filled with homeowners, family, friends and strangers who came to volunteer their time to help with clean up efforts.
“We’ll get through it,” Joe Pape said. “All of this can be fixed or replaced. My family is safe. That’s all that matters.”
Mayor Kernc took Gov. Pat Quinn for a brief tour Monday afternoon down Laura Lane in Diamond Estates.
Quinn toured the state’s most damaged areas. He declared seven counties disaster areas, including Grundy County. As of Monday afternoon, statewide there had been six deaths as a result of the 20 to 30 tornadoes that touched the ground Sunday, he said.
As they walked, Kernc bragged about her residents and their commitment to each other during this time of need.
“That spirit of Grundy County, Diamond, Coal City and Illinois is what it is all about,” Quinn told her.
“My people are amazing people,” Kernc replied.
Quinn held a news conference with local officials on the front lawn of a house on Laura Lane where the second floor of the home was exposed after a portion of the roof and walls had been blown off.
“The whole idea is survival and recovery, that’s why we are here today,” Quinn said to the crowd of storm survivors and media.
He thanked God for the first responders and all of the people who came together to get through the aftermath of the tornado.
Throughout Illinois’ history, Quinn said the state has never seen as many tornadoes in the month of November as this year.
He said the state would be doing all it could to assess the damage in order to apply for federal funding to assist with rebuilding. He encouraged residents to keep good records of their damage.
Kernc advised residents to take video and photos of all their damage for their insurance and then take debris and damaged materials to the street curb and it will be removed by the village. Village Hall is available to anyone in need of a phone, fax or copy machine.
Village officials also advised everyone before using a contractor to make sure they are registered with the village to avoid any scams.
In 1990 Kernc’s home in Plainfield was destroyed by a tornado and she said seeing this in Diamond breaks her heart.
“I know what these people are going through,” she said.
Grundy County Board Chairman Ron Severson, Coal City Mayor Neal Nelson and Will County Executive Larry Walsh also spoke at the news conference.
Nelson said no lives were lost to this tornado because of the early warning of sirens and news media notifications.
“It’s amazing how fast things can come together, it’s only been 25 hours,” he said.
Clean up efforts continue
A curfew was put in place Sunday and Monday nights for Diamond Estates in order to protect the houses in the overnight hours, Grundy County Sheriff Kevin Callahan said. Extra patrols will be in the area and no one will be allowed into Diamond Estates unless they live there.
No incidents were reported in the subdivision last night, he said.
Grundy County deputies were limiting traffic all day Monday on Route 113 into Diamond. Route 113 was still closed from as of 7 p.m. Monday from Fifth Avenue to Interstate 55, Doerfler said. The hope was to have it open sometime Monday night.
ComEd employees also were working after the storm Sunday and all day Monday.
Anne Pramaggiore, ComEd CEO, was in Diamond surveying damage and working with local officials. At 1 p.m. Monday, Diamond and Coal City still had about 130 homes without power, she said, and 70 poles down. A ComEd incident command center has been set up in Diamond since Sunday.
It was hoped that power would be returned by Tuesday with a temporary fix, she said, but it would take days to fix the system entirely.
Coal City School District 1 schools were closed Monday due to lack of transportation. The Illinois Central School Bus barn was hit by the tornado causing extensive damage to its fleet, forcing school to be canceled.
But Tuesday school is back in session, Superintendent Kent Bugg said. All routes will be as scheduled, except special education transportation routes are being altered. Those parents have been notified.
Illinois Central called in other buses for help, Bugg said. The buses are being stored in the west parking lot of the high school where a room for drivers is also available. In addition, a bus dispatch center has been set up at Coal City Middle School. Bus phone numbers have not changed, Bugg said.
School is back in session, but the “Heroin is in your Neighborhood” informational event scheduled for Wednesday at Coal City High School has been postponed until Jan. 15.