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Cleanup begins after first January tornadoes in 57 years
Daily Herald Staff and Wire Reports | Associated Press

Employees, family members and friends begin the cleanup effort Tuesday at Edwards Apple Orchard in Poplar Grove. A tornado Monday night destroyed all of the barns and outbuildings on the property.

 

Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

With their home rendered uninhabitable by Monday's tornado, the Hall family was forced to remove all of their essential belongings Tuesday from their family farmstead at Edwards Apple Orchard in Poplar Grove.

 

Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

Bob Edwards, original owner and proprietor of Edwards Apple Orchard in Poplar Grove, describes how Monday night's tornado destroyed all of the buildings on the property, now owned by his daughter Barb Hall and her husband, Ken.

 

Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

Barb Hall and her daughter Audrey describe the devastation a tornado wreaked on their farm Monday night in Poplar Grove. Barb and her husband, Ken, own Edwards Apple Orchard on Centerville Road.

 

Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

This home on Beaverton Road north of Poplar Grove was leveled by Monday night's tornado, which yanked the house and all of its contents off the foundation and threw them into the nearby field.

 

Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

The entire contents of a home on Beaverton Road were spread across a nearby field by a tornado that ripped through the Poplar Grove area Monday in Boone County.

 

Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

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Published: 1/8/2008 11:40 AM | Updated: 1/8/2008 2:25 PM

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Bill Lischka was sitting and drinking coffee at the Boone County Family Restaurant in Caledonia when he heard an uncommon sound for January: a tornado siren.

"Next thing you know ... a tornado just popped right out of the clouds," he said. "Just a classic twister."

The funnel cloud looked like "a snake dangling" as it wove its way north and east, Lischka said.

The freak January tornado moved through Illinois on Monday, destroying buildings, toppling trees and knocking railroad cars off the tracks before moving into Wisconsin, emergency workers said.

Utility crews worked through the night to restore power to thousands who lost electricity.

One tornado was reported in Boone County's Poplar Grove and the other was spotted about 13 miles east, just north of Harvard, meteorologists said.

The storm that ran through Poplar Grove left three people with minor injuries, said Boone County Sheriff's Lt. Perry Gay. Six or seven homes were destroyed and a number of sheds and barns were also demolished.

"Had the tornado been a little bit south, it would have been smack dab in the middle of the village, which also has a lot of businesses," Gay said. "We were very fortunate it hit on the outskirts."

In central Illinois, a reported tornado in Topeka in Mason County ripped up an unanchored porch, injuring a 19-year-old, according to the weather service. And no one was injured when wind gusts as high as 60 miles mph rumbled through Tazewell County and destroyed a pole barn, said officials with the Tazewell County sheriff's office.

Boone County resident Al Ost told the Rockford Register Star that he "prayed like a sissy" as he fled to the basement of his house. The storm damaged a barn on his property, strewing parts of the roof in his yard.

The owner of Edwards Apple Orchard in Poplar Grove said his apple trees remained intact, but all eight buildings on the property were damaged.

"Either the roofs are gone or half the buildings are gone," he told the Register Star.

Bob Edwards, who started the orchard with his wife in 1964, said the estimated cost of the damage is unknown.

"We have all of the farmer's markets in the barns, the bakery, cider press, gift shop, fudge department and the restaurant. All of that is pretty much destroyed," Edwards said. "It is going to be a very expensive process to rebuild them."

Expensive, Edwards said, because the barns featured gambrel roof beams that are irreplaceable.

Damage to the farmhouse is yet to be determined but Edwards said the likelihood that the home could be saved is slim.

"Windows are blown out and one end of is blown away, the roof is torn off," Edwards said. "Right now we are just trying to salvage what we can."

Despite the carnage, Edwards said the family is hopeful the orchard will open in the fall.

"We are a large family and have lots of good friends who are willing to help us get through this," Edwards said.

Union Pacific spokesman Mark Davis said no one was injured when one locomotive and 12 freight cars derailed Monday around 4 p.m. in Harvard.

One tank car, which leaked for hours before being contained Monday night, contained oil for shock absorbers. Another tank car that ended up on its side contained ethylene oxide, a flammable material widely used to sterilize medical supplies. Davis said the tank was not leaking, but railroad officials would spend most of today trying to right it.

Workers were repairing about 400 feet of track that was damaged in the storm. The section was expected to reopen by the end of the week.

Authorities ordered the evacuation of about 500 residents in the nearby unincorporated town of Lawrence because of the potential for a hazardous materials situation, said Capt. David Shepherd with the McHenry County sheriff's office. No injuries were reported, he said.

Three other derailed cars on the train headed to Janesville, Wis., from North Lake contained auto parts, and seven more were empty, Davis said.

The last time a tornado touched down in January in north-central or northeastern Illinois was Jan. 25, 1950, according to the National Weather Service. That tornado hit Manteno, in Kankakee County, about 50 miles south of Chicago.

Illinois is usually free of tornadoes in the winter because colder, more arctic air sits over the region, said NWS meteorologist Eric Lenning. Tornadoes need warmer temperatures and moist air for support, conditions located much farther south in the wintertime.

But for the last couple of days, "we've had spring-like weather. That's when we'd normally expect this kind of (severe) weather," Lenning said.

Daily Herald wire services and staff writer Larissa Chinwah contributed to this report.