Volunteers from the Hanover Township Emergency Services Unit responded to a request Sunday from Will County to assist with lighting and scene security in the Diamond and Coal City, Ill., area after a tornado caused destruction there.
National Weather Service storm damage survey teams have confirmed EF-2 tornado damage near Coal City, which is nearly 70 miles south of Hanover Township.
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Seven volunteers hopped into four township vehicles about 4 p.m. and arrived in the area of Route 133 and Interstate 55 as it was starting to get dark, said James Dexter, the unit's interim chief.
Dexter said the emergency services unit deploys to emergency sites when asked by local authorities, as was the case earlier this year after a train derailment in Bartlett.
"We were very surprised we were contacted (Sunday)," he said. "But everyone was ready to go."
There was obvious destruction everywhere, from a destroyed pump at an otherwise intact Shell gas station to a pile of damaged RVs in what appeared to be a sales lot, Dexter said.
"They incurred some heavy wind damage," he said, adding that emergency crews from Plainfield, Romeoville, New Lenox and other areas of Will County also were on the scene.
The Hanover Township volunteers went into a handful of buildings to make sure no one was stranded or hurt inside and to ensure that the gas supply and other utilities were turned off. Two of the township's vehicles equipped with tower lights were set up at intersections to illuminate the road for people coming in and out of the area.
Rich David, a corporal with the unit, said the Hanover Township volunteers saw leveled buildings and vehicles in the parking lot of a church that were riddled with sheet metal, two-by-fours and other debris. People were in the church when the severe weather passed through, but they are all safe.
Volunteers also met a business owner who said he had $90,000 worth of inventory blown away.
"For him, it was certainly tragic," David said. "He lost everything. But he was safe."
The unit left Coal City about 10 p.m. Sunday. While Dexter said he didn't know of any immediate plans for the unit to return to the devastated area, there is still a need for help. David said he is already planning to go back, whether with the unit or through his church.
"I guess it's just trying to do my part to give back. I want to be there for those people when they need help," he said. "Who knows, maybe they'll be there when I need help, too."