COAL CITY – The tornado that touched down in Coal City Monday night was a "high-end" EF3 tornado — with winds up to 160 miles per hour, the National Weather Service confirmed late Tuesday afternoon.
At least four tornadoes in all touched down in the region during Monday night's storms and additional tornadic activity may be confirmed later, Ricky Castro, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Romeoville, said.
NWS and local officials expected all along the tornado that ripped through Coal City caused more damage than the storms that glazed over a section of the city and neighboring Diamond in 2013. That was categorized as an EF-2, Castro said.
"We suspected already but (further surveying) confirms that is was (an EF-3,)" he said.
One of the tornadoes — which touched down along the Will-Grundy county line — caused damage in the towns of Coal City, Carbon Hill and Braidwood. A second tornado was confirmed to touch down in Lee County, also categorized as a preliminary EF-2.
The NWS also confirmed an EF-1 tornado in Mendota, a "high-end" EF-2 with winds up to 130 miles per hour in Seblette, and an EF-1 in Harmon. There's also the possibility of tornadic damage near Mazon, and in Kankakee County near Bourbonnais and Bradley, Castro said.
Gov. Bruce Rauner made his way Tuesday morning to Coal City to view the tornado damage firsthand. Rauner spoke to media from Coal City High School where he announced Grundy and Lee counties as disaster areas. He said federal aid is unlikely but state officials won't know until the damage is assessed during the next several days.
But state resources – mostly personnel – will be available to communities that were impacted. The focus Tuesday will be on debris clean-up, he said.
“Here in Coal City, the devastation has been widespread," Rauner said. "We want to say thank you to the many volunteers, the state police have been terrific as always, thank you to the mayor here in Coal City. … This is what Illinois is all about: the community coming together and helping each other."
He said given the extensive devastation of the storms, it was a miracle that there were no deaths or people with major injuries.
Coal City Mayor Terry Halliday said at the news conference the next step will be to assess the damage in the city and put together a relief plan. He said he didn't know the number of commercial properties damaged, but he said it was quite high.
About two years ago, Coal City was slightly impacted by the storms, unlike Diamond. He hopes this tornado will be the last one.
Halliday said the easiest way for people to help would be to donate money to relief organizations. He said Coal City will need volunteers eventually, but the focus Tuesday was safety.
"We want to keep people away until we can actually let our residents get back into their neighborhoods, get into their houses and make sure things are safe," Halliday said.
Searches, repairs continued Tuesday
Emergency crews began a secondary search Tuesday morning in the Coal City area.
A ComEd spokesman joined Rauner at the news conference and stated 55,000 residential and commercial customers have been affected by power outages. Of those, 31,000 have been restored and ComEd crews are working to restore the remaining out.
About 300 crews are out repairing, he said, and 200 are handling vegetation and tree removal.
Coal City, Sterling and Sublette were the hardest hit areas when it comes to power outages. The spokesman said power is not expected to be restored until late Tuesday or Wednesday morning.
Halliday said during an earlier news conference Tuesday morning that the tornado hit Coal City about 10 p.m. Monday, and moved southeast. It impacted multiple neighborhoods, before ending it's path of destruction on Berta Road where it damaged Coal City Fire Protection District Station 2.
"We will not have an exact path until a full assessment has been completed," Halliday said.
He said relief efforts started during the night and 15 to 20 people sought shelter during the early morning hours.
Deputy Chief Todd Friddle with the Wilmington Fire Protection District spoke on behalf of MABAS 15, which includes several area fire districts that provide mutual aid. He said five people were transported to local hospitals, and as of Tuesday morning there were no reported casualties.
"We worked throughout the night," he said. "We've started to relieve companies and bring in fresh companies."
He said 36 agencies responded to their call for mutual aid and they did an initial check of the affected area, which included a path from directly behind the high school through town and to the subdivisions of Richards Crossing and Coalfield Estates. Traffic also is being prevented from traveling south on Berta Road from Route 113 in Diamond.
"At this point we believe we have accounted for everyone," Friddle said.
Coal City Police Chief Tom Best said the first priority is to secure the perimeters of the damaged areas and control entry until the fire department says it is clear and safe for people to enter.
Those wishing to volunteer to help are asked not to come until later in the week, Lt. Nick Doerfler of Coal City Fire Protection District said, so emergency crews can confirm the area is safe.
"It's not time for volunteers to come help us yet," City Administrator Matt Fritz said at the press conference.
A post on the Facebook page Coal City Area Tornado - Official, which was set up by emergency officials shortly after the tornado hit to share information, noted officials "apologize and appreciate everyone's anxiousness to help but we are still really in emergency mode. Streets are impassable. Will post as soon as we know of a donation drop-off location."
How to help
Castro, with the National Weather Service in Romeoville, said a NWS survey team started its surveying outside of Coal City, he said, to determine exactly where the tornado formed.
Officials do not have a total number of houses damaged or an estimated cost, but did say that it was comparable, if not more, to the damage done by the tornado that hit Diamond in November 2013.
Those wishing to make a financial donation can visit http://www.cfgrundycounty.com/donate-online/ to do so.
Officials intend to share what other types of donations may be needed as they determine it.
"We truly appreciate everyone offering to help by volunteering to clean-up, donate items, etc." the Grundy County Community Organizations Active in Disaster posted on its Facebook page Tuesday morning. The organization was formed after the 2013 tornado in order to respond to future natural disasters.
"At this time we do not know what is needed specifically as first responders are still on the ground. Many people are just now able to access their damage since the sun has risen. Some streets are still not passable due to standing water, debris and power lines being down. The area is not safe and they are not letting anyone in other than emergency personnel."