Gifford heavily damaged by tornado

Gifford heavily damaged by tornado

GIFFORD - It does not appear that anyone has been seriously injured from a  tornado that hit the village of Gifford area around 1 p.m. Sunday.

Jeremy Mitchell of the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency confirmed that three tornadoes touched down in Champaign County all around the same time.

The worst damage was done in Gifford, where approximately 200 homes were reported destroyed or damaged, according to a release from Champaign County Sheriff Dan Walsh and Champaign County EMA Coordinator John Dwyer

"More than 20 homes appear to have been destroyed," said the release. "An official damage assessment will be conducted tomorrow morning. Six people were transported to area hospitals for treatment of non-life threatening injuries. There were a few other cases of cuts and bruises that did not require transport.

"Power is out throughout Gifford.  A boil order has been issued because the water system is not currently operating properly. 

"The American Red Cross has opened a shelter at the Country Health Nursing Home on Route 136 in Gifford, but it appears many residents have found shelter elsewhere.

"Route 136 will remain closed to through traffic until further notice.  Residents and volunteers who know residents and wish to help tomorrow should park at Gordyville USA on Route 136.  Most vehicles will not be allowed into Gifford."

There was another in Flatville, where damage reports were incomplete but outbuildings and homes in the country were hit. The third was in the country near Broadlands, Mitchell said.

"There were reports of high voltage power lines and significant damage to agricultural buildings, second stories of homes, roofs," said Mitchell.

In Douglas County, EMA Director Joe Victor reported two homes destroyed and a mobile home overturned on the Hayes Road west of Villa Grove; three homes on U.S. 45 heavily damaged; and three mobile homes in Garrett heavily damaged.

"No injuries. Thank goodness," said a harried Victor late Sunday afternoon.

He said the Hayes Road over Interstate 57 would likely be closed until late Monday or Tuesday because of downed power lines. 

Around 8 p.m., 29,423 Vermilion County residents and 1,406 Champaign County remained without power, according to Ameren Illinois' website. Crews also were still working to restore power to 910 residents in Edgar County, 22 in Iroquois and 17 in Ford.

In the village of Gifford, with a population of about 975, News-Gazette photographer Robin Scholz said the northeast side of the village was hardest hit.

"I've never seen anything like this," said the veteran photographer.

Chief Deputy Allen Jones of the Champaign County Sheriff's Office reported the damage looked as bad as it did in Ogden in  April 1996, when a tornado hit that town in eastern Champaign County, about 17 miles south of Gifford. 

After dark, Sheriff Dan Walsh said: "We are basically closing the town. We have the perimeter covered with troopers and will have deputies patroling. We do not want people to come up here to offer to help. It just adds to the confusion."

That was the scene earlier in the day when Scholz made her way around town recording the devastation.

"You see this on TV all the time. You never think it will happen to you," resident Pat Whitaker, 82, told Scholz as she sat wrapped in a blanket in her yard.

Whitaker told Scholz she was upstairs in her bedroom and started to head downstairs when she was swept away.

"She came to and said, 'Oh my God. I'm outside,'" Scholz recounted. .

“It’s just devastating here in town,” Gifford Grade School Superintendent Rod Grimsley said. (The school is) right on the edge of it. It’s from the school north and the downtown areas to about (U.S.) 136).

“It’s horrible. There’s probably 50-60 homes leveled. Most of those that got hit, there’s no way they can do anything with them,” Grimsley said.

The superintendent, who lives in St. Joseph, drove to Gifford to see if there was any damage to the school. He said the roof of the bus barn collapsed on the school buses inside, and a portion of the school roof was damaged.

He said he cannot get into the bus barn to gauge the extent of the damage. He termed damage to the school as minor.
Grimsley said there would not be school for several days.

He said the town is without power or natural gas.

Several area fire departments converged on the village to help.

News-Gazette reporter Tim Mitchell said many people were parking at Gordyville on U.S. 136 and walking into the village to help with cleanup. Homeowners were boarding up broken windows and people were carrying around tubs of possessions.

Families and friends were reuniting at the Country Health Care nursing home on U.S. 136. Sheriff Dan Walsh said the nursing home was serving as a temporary shelter for Gifford residents.

Representatives of the Red Cross and the Salvation Army were also in town.

News-Gazette photo editor John Dixon reports being able to see a path cut by the storm from east of Thomasboro headed in a northeasterly direction up to Gifford.

Dixon found Jeff and Brenda Mifflin, whose house and garage at 2077 County Road 2800 N, which is about two miles south and three miles west of Gifford, were destroyed in fewer than five minutes.

They told Dixon they were watching the storm roll in from a picture window "when all of a sudden it got really loud and we headed down to the basement. It was pitch black and we started calling out to each other," Brenda Mifflin told him.

Their son was in Rantoul at the time.

"We kept holding on and holding on to each other," Brenda Mifflin, said, as she and about 14 others worked to salvage belongings from the rubble of their home. 

Many homes are damaged and outbuildings destroyed. On County Road 2100 E north of Flatville, for example, power poles have been snapped off.

Sheriff Walsh said communication by cellphone was a bit of a problem of spotty service in the area. Walsh confirmed that Champaign County Board chair Alan  Kurtz has sought a disaster declaration, which would qualify the area for federal funding.

News-Gazette photographer Brad Leeb reported the home of Mike and Karen Brian on the Hayes Road in northern Douglas County, about 3 miles west of Villa Grove, was destroyed. No one was injured there.

A number of Vermilion County communities were still without power following a severe thunderstorm that moved through the area around noon.

Danville Public Safety Director Larry Thomason said the storm brought heavy rain, hail and high winds, which continued into the day. It knocked down tree limbs and power poles, which disrupted power and cellphone service across the city.

Thomason said no injuries have been reported within the city. Extra police are out at busy intersections directing traffic.

Restaurants, gas stations and other businesses closed due to the power outage. Thomason said the Festival of Trees at the Palmer Arena canceled activities for Sunday afternoon.

Danville sent first responders to Gifford, Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer said.
Eisenhauer said Ameren IP crews are assessing damage. Once that's concluded, he said, they will begin restoring power starting with priority locations such as hospitals and health care facilities.

Presence United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville has been operating on generator power since the outage and has reported no problems, spokeswoman Gretchen Yordy said.

There was a moment of silence before the National Anthem at the Illinois-Bradley basketball for those in the local communities of Gifford, Villa Grove and Hoopeston as well as the Bradley University community and those in the Peoria area affected by today's storms.




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Avalon wrote on November 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

Let this day be a warning to those emergency responders that thought today was going to be no-event. From the EMA managers who did not pay attention to the supercells developing to the west of the county and did not deploy spotters until it was almost too late to the COMPLETE & UTTER IDIOT on the scanner who advised the funnel cloud by Andersons was "no danger to anyone" and proceeded on his way. That funner cloud then dropped to the ground further east and demolished numerous rural homes in and around Gifford. Never-Never underestimate. Anticipate the worst and hope for the best. That being said.....All the best to those affected by this storm and to those responding to the scene.

sweet caroline wrote on November 17, 2013 at 1:11 pm

I confess that I was one of those who thought "nah, nothing will happen," and then I heard about Gifford and Rantoul.  You're right, Avalon.  We should never underestimate tornado warnings.

Avalon wrote on November 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

If I get an hint that severe weather might be possible I check the following resources to get a better idea of what to expect: . There was plenty of warning of what this day was going to bring. It was very frustrating hearing the complacency of various authorities, knowing of what might happen. Weather radar was showing numerous supercells developing to the west, many with rotating signatures.  Everything was ripe for a major event.

sweet caroline wrote on November 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Thank you, Avalon, for those resources.  I'm bookmarking them right now.  I'll take the warnings seriously from now on.  I didn't even hear sirens going off in Urbana.  Did they go off?

Molly1 wrote on November 17, 2013 at 7:11 pm

So Avalon,

I always want to be informed as quickly as possible in situations like this, and I have an old scanner that I am currently not using, so would you mind sharing with me the frequencies that you can hear the storm spotters on?


dd1961 wrote on November 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Where in Gifford?  I have family there and cannot get in contact...

Avalon wrote on November 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Unfortunately it seems most of the town has been affected. The town is blocked off and search and rescue is underway. There are numerous homes that have been damaged. I hope for the best for your family.

dd1961 wrote on November 17, 2013 at 2:11 pm

Thanks, heard they are OK and their house is too.  They were in Champaign during the storm and are now home. 

Believe wrote on November 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      To the person who is critizing the storm spotting.   Typical, someone NOT involved is critizing those who DO volunteer. 

      (1)  Obvious you don't know the facts.  

                      Fact:   We were preparing since yesterday, and had spotter teams lined up yesterday and early today.  Were you one of them?  If not, don't critize - this is a VOLUNTEER effort.   We train, we test our equipment and drill weekly, and meet monthly - are YOU there?  Were you ready to deploy to help today?

                      Fact:   We ALWAYS take storm spotting seriously. 

      (2)  We can't be every where all at once.   Champaign County is 36 miles North to South, and about 35 miles East to West.   That's a lot of county roads to cover. 

If you think you can do a better job .... join us!   (   We need your expertise.  BTW - we are all licensed ham radio operators - that takes a large commitment to have teams ready to respond (November is not exactly tornado month here in Illinois, and yet we were able to gather five teams of two operators - that's 10 folks plus a net controller who gave up their Sunday to storm spot for the protection of Champaign County residents).  We'd love for more people to join us - but it's a big commitment. 

      Our storm spotting team was informed the EOC (run by Champaing County) NOT the storm spotting team - that emergency operations would begin at NOON today.  If you think that was too late - contact the County EMA - not critize the folks that risk their personal welfare to go out and do the spotting.   We deployed when we were instructed to deploy.     I know - I was one of them.

        Good thing that the storm spotters of the county know that our volunteer work is for the protection of the county residents - including idiots that listen to scanners then critize others.

Avalon wrote on November 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm

@Believe...If you would re read the original note, there was no comment regarding the actual spotters...the comment was directed at the various EOC managers and brass up the local public safety chain. Its good to know you were one step ahead of them which makes the point to pre plan for your family and significant others and not fully rely on others as they may fall short. 

Martin1 wrote on November 17, 2013 at 3:11 pm
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No reason for your rant. 

Sometimes during these situations, comments are based on emotion. People know that spotters are taking a big risk being out in conditions, that no one should be in. We all appreciate the job and service done by weather spotters. They do save lives.

A tornado event is hard to predict even with all the information in front of you. It seems sometimes, that there is no ryhme or reason when they drop.

I feel for all the people in Gifford and in Washington (Peoria) which got hit extremely hard.

Believe wrote on November 17, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Thank you for your sensible comments.  I only took exception to "Avalon" when he called a spotter an idiot - and blamed them for a tornado "later" up the road.   I was near I-57 and Olympian around 12:30 p.m. - I saw the conditions which did not look good but there is a difference between a rotating wall cloud and seeing a storm cloud that may or may not develop into a tornado.  If it did not look like a developing tornado at the time an individual makes a report - that doesn't make the person/spotter an 'idiot.'  I took offense to this because it takes a lot of work to become anAmateur radio operator, and continually train and take emergency preparedness classes, and it's all volunteer work. 

Like you, my thoughts and prayers go out to the towns and people affected by today's weather events. 

I didn't mean to rant, but wanted to inform others that what we do is volunteer work - and by no means do we treat storm spotting with complacency. 


sweet caroline wrote on November 17, 2013 at 6:11 pm

I think everyone is a little upset that such destruction happened so close to home.  To "Believe," a huge thank you to you and ALL spotters and first responders, especially volunteers like yourself. 

Martin1 wrote on November 17, 2013 at 5:11 pm
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Thank you