Illinois football secretary rides out tornado
Gifford resident Anderson one of fortunate residents without damage to home
CHAMPAIGN — Nicole Anderson didn't have any power this morning in Gifford. Or running water.
But the administrative assistant to Illinois football coach Tim Beckman considers herself fortunate.
The tornado that ripped through the town did not cause any damage to her house, which she said is about two blocks south of where most of the storm damage happened.
"It sounded like a freight train or a really loud train coming through," Anderson said Monday afternoon in her office at Memorial Stadium. "We got up. My husband went outside, and you couldn't tell there was any damage around us. We had one neighbor to the north of us that part of his fence blew away. That was it. We were extremely lucky compared to some."
Anderson said she was working around her house — which is located on the north of U.S. 136 — and getting ready to watch the Chicago Bears game before she took note of the weather. Her husband, Bill, and their dog, JJ, weathered the storm in a windlowless bathroom they have in their home.
"I said to my husband, 'Look at those clouds,'" Anderson said. "He said, 'That's rain. It's just raining sideways.' All of a sudden you see the leaves twirling in the air, and I thought, 'Those are clouds.'"
After the storm passed, Anderson drove 4 miles east along U.S. 136 to check on her mom, Betty, who lives in Penfield.
"That's when I got to 136 and I could see emergency vehicles," Anderson said. "It was unreal. I think there were about six houses that are completely gone to the northeast of Gifford."
Once Anderson returned from checking on her mom, she helped out friends and neighbors where she could.
"Coming from a town of about 1,000 people, you know a lot of them," Anderson said. "I have a lot of friends that lost pretty much almost everything."
Anderson said she "felt guilty," for working on Monday as the town tries to recover.
"There was really nothing we could do today," she said. "They were trying to get the streets cleaned up because there were so many power lines and power poles down. I did talk to a friend of mine this morning whose house was leveled, and he said they were letting them back in to get as much stuff as they could for right now."
Anderson was born and raised in Penfield, graduated from Armstrong High School in 1993, has lived in Gifford the last 10 years and has held her current position at Illinois since 2007. She remembers the tornado that hit Urbana and Ogden in 1996. Seeing the effects of this tornado up close, though, and knowing people affected by the damage, left her with a different feeling.
"Just to think that people don't have a house any more, it's tough," Anderson said. "This hit home. You don't expect to go through this, and to know so many people who have been affected by it is what makes it so difficult."