Industrial park may be without power for a couple of days

RANTOUL — It's looking like it could take a couple of days to restore power to the industrial park on Rantoul's west side after high winds blew down several power lines around 8 a.m. Friday and turned over at least two semitrailers.

Joe Siedenburg, human resources manager at Conair, told The News-Gazette that the Rantoul public works department reported it could be 48 to 72 hours before power can be restored.

"We are going to be down all shifts Thursday and Friday and we're hoping to be back up and operational Monday," he said.

"The damage we had from the storm is pretty minimal, some sheet metal damage to the side of the building and part of the roof ripped off in our distribution area. The most important thing is nobody was hurt," Siedenburg said.

He said about 200 workers had started their shift at 7 a.m.

"It happened so quickly. There was no warning. One minute it was clear and the next minute it hit," he said.

Police Chief Paul Farber said winds estimated at 70 mph or more hit the industrial park.

"We could see a lot of stuff flying around. I don't know if they're still saying it was just wind. From the damage we see, it certainly could have been more than wind," said Siedenburg. "There's definitely about a six-mile path (starting) three miles to the southwest to three miles northeast of us where there's a direct line of damage."

Farber said no serious injuries were reported. He confirmed that the winds took down several power poles and lines along U.S. 136, leaving the industrial park without power and causing plants there to hold over their shifts to keep people safe.

Rantoul Fire Chief Ken Waters said the winds broke about 15 poles in the area "like toothpicks."

Siedenburg said employees of businesses in the park were eventually allowed to leave heading east. They could not go west because of the charged power lines across U.S. 136.

A semi in the Engineered Plastic Components parking lot to the east of Conair flipped over with its driver inside, but he was not hurt, Siedenburg said.

Illinois State Police reported that another semi blew over just north of Rantoul as it headed south on I-57 at 7:50 a.m. It came to rest on the driver's side, blocking the passing lane of traffic and the left shoulder.

Driver Jason E. Griffin, 61, of Herscher, was wearing a seat belt and was not hurt badly enough to need medical treatment. The trooper who responded saw several pieces of debris, including broken insulation, along the west guardrail and on the road and in the median.

The Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative reported 659 member owners were without power briefly Thursday morning, but it was mostly restored before noon.

The village is responsible for the power in the industrial park and Farber also said it could be a couple of days before all the power is restored to businesses in the park, which is home to Combe Laboratories, Jeld-Wen, Conair, Rantoul Foods pork processing plant, Eagle Wings, Charles Industries and Engineered Plastic Components. Easton-Bell Sports is under construction adjacent to the industrial park.

Rantoul police and firefighters were joined by Champaign County sheriff's deputies in closing U.S. 136 where as many as 15 power poles went down from I-57 to two miles west of the village of Rantoul. Firefighters from other area towns were standing by to help.

Rantoul police Sgt. Marcus Beach, who was patrolling in the rest of the village, said power was out briefly in town after the fast-moving spring storm went through, but most was back on shortly after.

'Things got a little hysterical' at Conair

RANTOUL — At 7 a.m. Thursday, Conair employees began another day of making personal care products.

Shortly before 8 a.m., there would nothing ordinary about the day.

Just after production ramped up, the plant "went black" and "things got a little hysterical" said Andrew Falls, who lives in Urbana and has been a material handler at the plant the last four months.

A strong wind gust hit the plant just before 8 a.m., ripping two large holes in the roof of the factory, located in the industrial park west of Rantoul.

"It was kinda scary," said Linda Keith of Fisher, who has served as a chemical expediter at the plant for the past 14 years. Keith and the others were at Ott's restaurant, where they had breakfast after being told that Conair would have to close for the week.

"I was sitting at my desk, and everything went totally black," Keith said. "It sounded like everything was shaking."

She called it "unexplainable not knowing what was going on" and said her office was told to go to the conference room.

In other parts of the building, with emergency lights kicking in, employees were told to go to the storm shelter.

"I thought, ah, ... something really happened," said Kascee Coffee, a line operator from Loda. "It was crazy, just crazy."

"I was just glad everybody's safe and no one got hurt," Falls said.

Falls said he nearly had an anxiety attack, but most of the 150 employees on duty remained calm, although a few were worried about their children.

"Since we were in the building, there was no way of knowing what was going on outside," Falls said.

"Now you know why I carry a flashlight," Teresa Taylor told her fellow employees, serving as a line leader at Conair for 21 years. "It was a crazy morning."

Tim Evans, News-Gazette Community Newspapers

Winds topple barn, kill horses near Elliott

Two horses died after straight-line winds toppled a barn at a farm near Elliott on Thursday morning.

The storm was part of the same system that caused damage in Rantoul, said Ford County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Dennis Higgins.

"From looking at the damage, it looks like straight-line winds came down, went through the barn where the animals and feed was, and basically blew both ends of the building out," Higgins said.

The farm, about a mile and a half west of Elliott at 745 E. Illinois 9, is owned by Cindy Tucker. She told Higgins she was getting ready for the day in her home when the barn collapsed around 8 a.m.

A miniature horse was found dead; a quarter horse was critically injured and later put down, Higgins said.

Higgins said he tracked large pieces of metal debris from the barn almost 3 1/2 miles away.

Higgins said the damage is consistent with straight-line winds. He said the closest "reporting station" to Elliott recorded 70-mph gusts.

In Douglas County, straight line winds caused some tree and property damage, but no injuries, just before 9 a.m., officials said.

The Douglas County Emergency Management Agency said in a release that two properties at about 1750 E and County Road 875 N were hit by the winds.

Will Brumleve, Paxton Record

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