Gusting wind and drenching rain blasted DuPage County and the Northwest suburbs this afternoon, injuring dozens of people, felling parts of buildings and homes and causing general mayhem.
A total of 40 employees were injured in West Chicago when the loading dock area of Uptime Parts, LLC caved in, shearing power lines in the process.
"That could've been us," said Mike Kieliszewski who witnessed the collapse. "Unbelievable."
Both Kieliszewski and Fernando Bourge work just two doors away from Uptime Parts at Environmental Inc.
"We saw it flying off," Bourge said of the roof. "I thought it was a big tarp. It hit the power lines, and there was a spark, and that's when everything went out."
Most Uptime Parts employees escaped without major injuries, but four men and four women were taken to Central DuPage Hospital for further care. One of the male patients was listed in critical condition.
Omar Grasker witnessed one of the injuries. He was inside Uptime Parts when the roof fell on one of his coworkers.
"When it first hit it gave us some light," Grasker said. "That was the sky.
"The roof started coming down," he added. "I started running. My buddy was under the rubble. He had a gash on his head. We had to get him from under the rubble. The whole experience was like a movie. It was crazy."
At nearly the same time, Winfield firefighters responded a single-family home on Courtney Lane. Gusting winds sucked most of a wall of the house while the family was inside. No one was injured.
Despite the gash, the home suffered no dangerous structural damage and remained habitable.
Winds of 58 mph were recorded at O'Hare International Airport at 3:26 p.m., and 60 mph in both Des Plaines and Streamwood.
The Midlothian area seemed to be the hardest hit by the winds, where speeds reached 74 mph. In the Northwest suburbs, the Mount Prospect area appeared to have been hit hardest, with many downed trees.
National Weather Service meteorologist Stephen Rodriguez said it was a confluence of several smaller storms that came together and traveled in the same direction for a short time.
These are called multi-cell storms, Rodriguez said.
While multi-cell storms are not unusual in themselves, particularly at this time of year, the severity of this one was on the high side, Rodriguez said.
Storms had forced O'Hare and Midway airports into a ground delay at 4 p.m., but flight operations resumed by 4:40 p.m. Due to the continuing possibility of severe weather, however, travelers were advised to continue expecting delays throughout the evening at both airports.
Metra officials were reporting delays reaching more than an hour during the evening rush hour due to debris on the tracks and gates snapped by the strong winds. The delays were spread throughout the system. "Things are moving out now, but they are slow at this time," Metra spokesman Patrick Waldron said.
There were a total of 186,000 ComEd customers without power Thursday afternoon, according to spokesman Tom Stevens.
Of these customers, 108,000 were in the north region, 30,000 in Chicago, 36,000 in the south region and 12,000 in the west region.
Reports from the rest of DuPage showed rampant flooding and downed trees that snarled traffic and blocked off streets, including large portions of Roosevelt Road.
Storm victims not stuck in traffic or bailing water were left in the dark.
ComEd spokeswoman Judy Rader said the storm at left least 186,000 customers in northern Illinois without service.
About 108,000 in the north suburbs had no power, 36,000 in the southern suburbs, 12,000 in the west region and 30,000 in Chicago.
"It's still coming through the service territory and the numbers are changing," Rader said. "We won't be able to assess all of the damage until the storm has moved through."
Tornado sirens also sounded throughout the area, sending thousands of students to spend the end of the school day in basements and protected areas.
Naperville North High School students took cover for nearly 40 minutes as the emergency storm plan went into affect.
Buses at many schools that were in the process of transporting students home were rerouted to the nearest school so students could take shelter.
A power failure at Madison Elementary School in Lombard may cause administrators to cancel school Friday. Officials plan to make a decision early Friday morning.
Downed trees and power lines plagued the downtown Mount Prospect area.
Meanwhile, Northwest Suburban High School District 214 canceled all outdoor after-school activities after losing power at Prospect High School, Rolling Meadows High School and Buffalo Grove High School. The other District 214 high schools did not lose power.
The District 214 school board meeting scheduled for Thursday night was also canceled.
In Schaumburg, minor injuries were reported when windows were blown out of a grocery store at Wise and Roselle roads.
There were multiple reports of downed trees, and roof and chimney damage across Schaumburg. An outdoor tent at the Schaumburg Marriott collapsed, causing minor injuries, Acting Police Sgt. John Nebl said.
Schaumburg Township officials also reported several instances of downed trees or power lines in their unincorporated areas. They're asking residents not to leave branches in the street, but to bring them to the side of the road where they'll be collected this weekend.
Chicago's Streets and Sanitation Department sent out a memo Thursday reporting 884 cases of tree damage, 76 traffic signals out, 54 damaged light poles and 75 streetlight wires down.