'Our neighbor's house is gone': Likely EF-3 tornado rips through Naperville, Woodridge
In the middle of the night, it was hard to fathom the menace of a tornado that tore through Naperville and Woodridge under the cloak of darkness.
But even with the light of day, what was left of suburban neighborhoods was no less disorienting: Street signs and trees split apart like matchsticks. A rain-soaked teddy bear on a lawn. Homes turned into splintered skeletons.
"Everything was a blur," said Bridget Casey, whose house in Woodridge lost its roof.
It was a fairly fast-moving tornado that damaged more than 130 homes in Naperville alone and another 100 structures in Woodridge, firefighters said.
Such nocturnal tornadoes are 2½ times as likely to kill as those that strike during the daytime hours, Northern Illinois University researchers said in a 2008 study.
Incredibly, no deaths have been reported in the towns that shouldered the worst of the damage in Sunday's overnight tornado. Many families were roused from sleep or jolted out of nighttime routines by tornado sirens and cellphones buzzing with warning alerts.
"You could see with the debris from the trees and the windows and everything else, it caused just a tremendous amount of damage in a quick period of time," Naperville Fire Chief Mark Puknaitis said Monday. "It's a miracle that we didn't have any fatalities here."
The tornado has a preliminary rating of an EF-3, the National Weather Service said Monday, making it the most powerful twister to hit the Chicago metropolitan area in six years.
Teams of weather service meteorologists started taking stock of the damage in Naperville before working their way east through Woodridge. Their findings indicated at least one tornado unleashed wind speeds of up to 140 miles per hour late Sunday, said Jake Petr, a meteorologist in the Romeoville office.
A tornado with an EF-3 classification on the 0-5 Enhanced Fujita scale can have winds as strong as 136 to 165 miles per hour. The last EF-3 tornado to hit the metro region was in Coal City in June 2015.
The weather service also reported potential tornado damage as far east as Willow Springs, though the agency will continue to review radar data and ground accounts to confirm a path and timeline, said Petr.
But the preliminary survey of the damage shows the tornado appears to have touched down close to Springbrook Prairie Forest Preserve near Naperville, meteorologist Brett Borchardt said. From there it headed east, paralleling 75th Street but on the south side of that road.
It barreled through the south sides of Woodridge and Darien, crossed I-55 near Willowbrook and then lifted in Willow Springs, just south of I-294, Borchardt said.
The worst damage was seen north of Ranchview Elementary School in Naperville.
Borchardt said the tornado spent roughly 20 minutes on the ground and traveled more than 10 miles.
A Naperville home on Princeton Circle was flattened. Next door, Joanna Sliwa could hear the roar of the storm, the windows popping -- but it was only "a matter of seconds," she said.
Her husband went outside to sift through the damage and told her, "Our neighbor's house is gone."
"I couldn't believe it," Sliwa said, gesturing Monday morning to the pile of rubble, all that was left of their neighbors' home. "I'm just shaken. I didn't sleep at all."
Naperville firefighters rescued two people from the rubble of the adjacent house. Neighbors described them as a couple in their 60s who were still inside sleeping when the storm slammed into the neighborhood.
"We're very fortunate to get those two people out," Puknaitis said.
Eight people were injured, five of whom were taken to the hospital by emergency personnel, Puknaitis said. One person was critically injured but has since been upgraded to fair condition. Another patient is now listed in good condition.
Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District Chief Keith Krestan also said three people were taken to area hospitals with various injuries.
DuPage County activated tornado sirens at 10:48 p.m. in Woodridge and surrounding communities, village officials said.
Storm sirens went off in Naperville at 11:07 p.m., about three minutes before reports of a tornado in a neighborhood just south of 75th Street and Ranchview Drive, city officials said.
So far, 22 houses were deemed uninhabitable by city inspectors. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are helping displaced families.
Most of the damage stretched across a five-square-block area.
"This tornado went through so quickly and so dramatically that it affected homes in so many different ways," Puknaitis said. "Usually you'll see a tornado that comes through and demolishes everything in sight. That wasn't the case here."
He pointed to the home that was leveled, saying the fire department's technical rescue team pulled residents from the rubble. The two houses next to it remained intact.
"It looks like there was an explosion, but there wasn't. That was just the wind," the chief said.
It will take time to fully assess the cost of the storm, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said. Puknaitis concurred.
"That probably won't be known for days," he said.
However, State Farm officials said early Monday the insurance company already had received 500 claims.
Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico and his wife, Julie, assessed the damage along Princeton Circle Monday morning.
"It's just amazing that there were no fatalities," Chirico said. "It's also incredible how structures are relatively intact right next to structures that are leveled."
He praised the city's public safety team and other crews for responding quickly, clearing streets and keeping residents safe. Fire personnel will remain in the area in 12-hour shifts to help residents.
In Darien, a few houses were left with roof damage, and one with structural, police said. There were no injuries reported.
• Daily Herald photographer Paul Valade and staff writers Marni Pyke, Russell Lissau, Scott C. Morgan and Alexa Jurado contributed to this report.