PHOTO STORY: 2 Deaths Confirmed in Wake of Thursday's Tornado

PHOTO STORY: 2 Deaths Confirmed in Wake of Thursday’s Tornado

Kane County’s Office of Emergency Management did everything it could to help the residents of Fairdale after a tornado tore through the small DeKalb County town Thursday night, killing two people and laying waste to much of the community.

OEM Director Don Bryant said Friday that volunteers were up all night in the assistance of first responders.

Bryant activated the county’s Emergency Operations Center at about 7 p.m. Thursday, April 9, when the National Weather Service issued a Tornado Watch for Kane County the surrounding areas. The EOC is a bank of computers and communications devices that allows Bryant and OEM volunteers to monitor storms as they approach, activate spotters and coordinate emergency operations. Initially, Bryant put 10 spotters in the field and five in the radio room.

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At around 7:10 p.m., the Kane County OEM received notice of a confirmed tornado in the area of Rochelle, heading northeast, and around 7:10 p.m. that a tornado had touched down in Fairdale, located along Route 72 west of Kane County.

Bryant said there were indications that the tornado in Fairdale might be moving in the direction of Hampshire, in Kane County. The EOC focused at that time on keeping Hampshire emergency services and 911 dispatch in the loop regarding the location of the tornado and severe weather.

“One of our biggest concerns was that we were uncertain where the track (of the tornado) was going to be,” he said. “They (National Weather Service officials) were unsure of the actual track. Our people were using radar to get an idea. About six miles east would be Hampshire.

“Our crews here prepared to respond if needed (in Hampshire),” Bryant said. “Fortunately, we weren’t.”

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Fairdale locator map. CREDIT: Screenshot from Google maps.

At about 10:15 p.m., DeKalb County officials requested Kane County OEM’s assistance, specifically hoping that Kane could supply lighting to help emergency crews clear the roads in Fairdale.

“They had no electricity and needed help,” Brant said. “So we sent a light tower and our Humvee (search-and-rescue vehicle), which also has a light tower and four-wheel drive. The DeKalb commander paired it up with a road-clearing crew to light up the area so that they could move the debris and let fire departments get through.”

Bryant said DeKalb set up the spotlights at just about every intersection of the unincorporated town of about 200 residents.

CREDIT: Google maps.

CREDIT: Google maps.

Thursday’s tornado caused significant damage, as you can see in the slideshow of images taken by OEM personnel early Friday morning. At least two fatalities have been reported, and 15 to 20 homes were destroyed. Media reports said almost all of the buildings in the town “sustained damage of some sort.” Technical rescue teams from DeKalb and Rockford assisted in searching the collapsed buildings for survivors.

Bryant said he debriefed his team early Friday but didn’t keep them long.

“They were exhausted,” he said. “They just told me the tasks. The pictures they sent are predominantly the downtown area, and thankfully, most of the residents had fled.”

Bryant said vigorous cleanup is under way in Fairdale on Friday, and OEM might send more volunteers Saturday.

Kane County’s Office of Emergency Management has about 65 volunteers in total.

Bryant said the response that took place in Fairdale on Thursday and Friday is similar to what Kane County residents would see if a tornado were to touch down here: an alarm put out by siren and media reports generated from local fire departments, the Emergency Operations Center would be activated and first responders sent to the scene or scenes of damage.

Bryant said he saw “good success” in the Thursday and Friday response.

“I measure that in how we’re providing for the displaced population and how we help them recover,” Bryant said. “The short-term success is in the search and rescue. (Success) will be measured in the recovery for a long time. That is where a lot of the resources will be needed to help these towns.”

Bryant said most or all of the fire departments in the northern part of Kane County, including Dundee, Rutland, Elgin and many more, were deployed in the rescue and recovery efforts Thursday.