Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois on April 20, 2017 · 1-9
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Chicago Tribune from Chicago, Illinois · 1-9

Chicago, Illinois
Issue Date:
Thursday, April 20, 2017
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Chicago Tribune Section 1 Thursday, April 20, 2017 9 Oak Lawn survivor: 'You can't forget it' Rush-hour storm moved fast, killed 33 within minutes By Donna Vickroy Daily Southtown Skip Sullivan and his buddies were watching a track meet at Oak Lawn Community High School when he noticed the black clouds rolling in and decided they needed to get out of there. They headed back into the school, first to their lockers and then to the main entrance, where they were met by the golf team. "They were running and yelling, 'Get back inside, there's a tornado " he recalled. On April 21, 1967, a violent tornado, one of 10 tornadoes to whip across northern Illinois that afternoon, barreled into Oak Lawn, leaving a path of death and destruction 200 yards wide and 16 miles long, reports state. In a matter of minutes, the winds leveled more than 100 homes, wiped out buildings, flipped cars and killed 33 people. Some 500 people would be injured, and the Oak Lawn tornado would become one of the Chicago area's worst weather disasters. Sullivan, now a retired teacher and coach, said 50 years later, the memory of the tornado is as clear as if it happened yesterday. "We ran back inside as far as we could and hit the floor," he said. As the teens hunkered down in the hallway outside the gym, he said they heard other ldds screaming and what sounded like a freight train tearing into the building. When it stopped, everything was pitch-black. He and his friends made their way outside, where the blare of a car horn broke the silence. "We crossed Southwest Highway to get to the car and there was a man slumped over the steering wheel," Sullivan said. "He didn't make it." 'We were just in shock' Thunderstorms developed early in western Iowa and northeast Kansas on that fateful Friday five decades ago. Walker Ashley, professor and atmospheric scientist at Northern Illinois University, said the spring system had all the makings of a violent tornado: moisture, instability, wind shear and lift Before the day's end, multiple twisters would wreak paths of devastation. The death toll began just before 4 p.m. just east of Rockford, in Belvidere, where 127 homes were destroyed and buses filled with grade schoolers were tossed, about resulting in 24 fatalities and hundreds of injuries. Around 5 p.m., the report states, another tornado hit Fox River Grove and North Barrington before ripping apart a brewery, a factory and subdivisions in Lake Zurich. And then things went from awful to worse when a rotating cloud mass was spotted near Joliet at about 5:15 p.m. As the twister moved along its path, it would blow out windows, down trees and power lines, overturn cars, destroy homes and send mud into the sky. Near Chicago Ridge, the tornado hit the Star-Lite Drive-in movie theater, bending steel supports and pulling speaker stands from the ground, an hour before the facility was set to open. Then the storm barreled straight into the heart of Oak Lawn, ripping through the busy intersection of 95th Street and Southwest Highway at rush hour, the report states. As Sullivan and other students took shelter in the high school, dozens of vehicles were being thrown asunder outside. Afterward, he recalled, "We saw all these bodies and debris everywhere. We were just in shock." Even now, Sullivan said, it's still difficult to explain the fickle nature of destruction, why some areas were blown apart and others left unscathed, why A young tornado victim is carried in for treatment at Christ Community Hospital in Oak Lawn A photo taken the day after the Belvidere survivors look back and up Belvidere, from Page 1 the doors." Keegan is one of the survivors of the tornado that tore through Belvidere and killed 24 people, including 17 schoolchildren; injured hundreds more; and destroyed more than 100 homes in the community outside Rockford and about 75 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. Although the tornado predated the Fujita scale of assessing damage (developed in 1971) and the enhanced Fujita scale (implemented in 2007), it has been rated an EF4. The Belvidere tornado was only the beginning of the day's devastation, one of the worst on record for tornadic activity in northern Illinois: A little more than an hour later, another tornado touched down in the Lake Zurich area, where it destroyed a school and 75 homes, killed one person and seriously damaged an additional 200 homes. That was not the worst of it: Around the same time, a tornado hit southwest suburban Oak Lawn, killing 33 people and destroying more than 100 homes. That tornado remains one of Chicago's worst weather disasters. Less than 2 miles from where the school bus overturned in Belvidere, Ray DeWane watched as corn combines crumpled like paper as they were tossed into the air and tractors smashed through windows some people had the good fortune to be outside the path while others didn't. Also among the lucky ones that day, Sullivan said, were the members of the synchronized swim team. They'd quit practice early, some five to 10 minutes before the tornado collapsed giant beams into the pool area The tornado continued east, leveling homes and taking out the Suburban Transit Co. bus garage, the Sherwood Forest Restaurant and Fairway Foods grocery store. April 21, 1967, Belvidere tornado shows school buses in a field The 3 deadly tornadoes D Belvidere Time: 3:50 p.m. Length: 25.5 miles Width: 1,200 yards Fatalities: 24 Injuries: 450 Paths of April 21, 1967, ILLINOIS IOWA Moline of the livestock auction business where he worked. "You just don't know what to expect and you're fearing for your life and you don't know if you're going to make it or not," said DeWane, now 82. "You can't believe the devastation it can do in two minutes." The business sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. "It was a devastating time for Belvidere," DeWane said. Keegan's family stayed with friends for a month after the tornado because her parents' and her grandparents' houses were destroyed. Despite the devastation, she remembers people streaming into town to offer aid. "I think everybody just came together and it was really a sense of community," Keegan said. "Everybody got their hands dirty and worked together and got it done." Local author Mike Doyle wrote a book about the tornado for the 40th anniversary and revised it for It weakened slightly before picking up speed again near Cicero Avenue and 92nd Street, where it struck a roller rink and mobile home park. Across the street from the popular skating rink, 12-year-old Jodi Marneris was in the shower, getting ready to make her confirmation at St. Gerald's Church. Seeking shelter Marneris remembers opening the bathroom door and her father hurrying her Q Lake Zurich Time: 5 p.m. Length: 8.8 miles Width: 150 yards Fatalities: 1 Injuries: 100 tornadoes Belvidere the 50th. Belvidere High is planning an afternoon ceremony Friday to mark the 50th anniversary of the tornado and to remember those who were killed. Principal Billy Lewis said the school aims to honor the victims and "celebrate the strength of their memory and their families and the community." A sculpture of a tornado with names of the victims stands at the high school. Later Friday, the Boone County Museum of History will hold a signing of Doyle's book and an open mic forum. Anna Pivoras, museum executive director, hopes the open mic will provide space for residents to share their memories. "It is something that has really scarred our community, and even though it's been 50 years, it's still so memorable to so many people, and people remember it like it was yesterday and are still affected by it today," Pivoras said. "So it's very important for the community to be able to share their down the stairs of their raised ranch home. On the lower level, she said, he pushed her into an unfinished bathroom area "He was shoving people under this counter as fast as he could," she said. But the storm was quicker. Several of her family members and her confirmation sponsor, as well as the sponsor's wheelchair-bound mother, were caught on the stairs when the roof collapsed. "I remember waking up with a chalky sensation in my mouth and nose, from the cement or the drywall," CHICAGO TRIBUNE on April 21, 1967. ASSOCIATED PRESS next to the high school. 0 Oak Lawn Time: 5:24 p.m. Length: 15.0 miles Width: 200 yards Fatalities: 33 Injuries: 500 5t Lake Zurich Chicago Oak Lawn personal stories and connect with others who experienced it" Keegan said it took decades before many people shared their experiences. "Nobody really talked about it. We just land of went about our life," she said. "It was done. We didn't dwell on it until the 40th anniversary, and a lot of people got in touch with their feelings and opened up about it more. Today, you would have had counselors, but we didn't have any of that stuff." Belvidere did not have tornado sirens in 1967, but now the city tests them the first Tuesday of every month. DeWane always looks out the window when he hears them. "I'm always looking to the sky now," he said. "You get a litde more aware of that. It's something that lives with you for the rest of your life, at least mine anyway. You got to respect the weather." Twitter GraceWong630 she said. "I kept saying, 'I can't breathe,' and my dad was saying, 'Stop screaming and start praying.' " Her youngest brother, she said, was found blocks away, with only minor injuries. "My mom was the worst," Marneris said. "She had extensive injuries and had to stay in the hospital for a long time." In a report on the storm, National Weather Service meteorologist Jim AUsopp wrote that after it leveled the Airway mobile home park and the Oak Lawn Roller Rink, the tornado swept across St. Mary's Cemetery, knocking down 200 monuments before moving on to Evergreen Park. It weakened but kept moving through Beverly Hills Country Club and Dan Ryan Woods before damaging trees, roofs, windows and garages near 87th and Damen Avenue. When it crossed the Dan Ryan Expressway at 5:35 p.m., the report states, it flipped a semi and caused so much debris on the highway that it was closed for hours. Wind gusts of 100 mph were recorded at a water filtration plant at the lake-front. The tornado, All-sopp's report stated, made the 16.2-mile trek in 15 minutes, moving across the ground at over 60 mph. The tornado, which predated the Fujita and enhanced Fujita scales of assessing damage, has been rated an EF4. In the aftermath, 800 National Guard troops were brought in to search for bodies and keep out gawk-ers. President Lyndon Johnson declared the tornado-ravaged communities a disaster area, and the Salvation Army and American Red Cross helped provide food and shelter to the homeless. The aftermath Marneris said she also clearly remembers the kindness of neighbors that day. One family took her and her brothers in for quite a while because their mother was hospitalized and "our house was destroyed." After a time, she went to live with her grandparents before her family was reunited in a new home in a different part of town. The tornado and subsequent rains left her with just the bathrobe she was wearing when it struck. She remembers how the kids at Covington School took up a collection on her behalf. "They raised around $100. Back in the '60s that bought you an awful lot," she said. Though approaching storms continue to make her anxious, Marneris still considers herself lucky. Just across Cicero Avenue, others suffered a far worse fate. When she finds herself in the area, she drives down her old street and sits for a time in her car gazing at the home that now stands where hers used to be. "It still kind of fascinates me," she said. "You can't forget it. It's been 50 years but it doesn't seem like it. I think it's something that will never go away." The Oak Lawn Public Library's "Voices in the Wind: Remembering the 1967 Tornado" exhibit includes images, film footage and personal recollections of that day. After an unveiling at 6 p.m. Friday, the exhibit will be open through spring of 2018, said Kevin Korst, local history manager. Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury said, "Oak Lawn will always remember the devastation of the tornado of 1967." The village, she said, will always remember and honor those who were lost and injured in the tornado, as well as those who helped with the rescue, support and rebuilding. Sullivan said he often shared with his students the events of that day and the importance of taking tornado warnings seriously. "I remember how the rescue work went on into the night." Through it all, he said, he was so busy helping he didn't think about checking in with his family. He later learned his father, who had seen the tornado coming from Harlem Avenue on his way home from work, had raced home, thinking the teen had been killed. Sullivan said that when he looks back on the day, "the thing I'm most proud of is how the Oak Lawn community reacted and how people from so many other towns helped us out." The kindness, he said, remains as fresh as the horror. "It's something you will never forget," he said, "how people came together." Twitter dvickroy

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