Gifford tornado victims tell of wind lifting car, pool blowing by 'like a flying saucer'

Gifford tornado victims tell of wind lifting car, pool blowing by 'like a flying saucer'

For The News-Gazette

GIFFORD — Stormy weather or not, Kara Roseman planned on driving to work Tuesday evening. But the after-hours bank cleaner didn't even make it out of her driveway before she knew that evening's storm wasn't normal.

"The wind picked up, and it started to lift up my car," she said.

Fearing a tornado, Roseman said she immediately ran back to the house, where she corralled her husband and three children into the basement.

"Everything happened so fast, it was just kind of a blur," she said.

National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Miller said Wednesday that an EF-1 tornado with top winds near 90 mph touched down at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday a few miles southeast of Rantoul. By 8:35 p.m., it had traveled to a spot about 2 miles west of Gifford before dissipating. The weather service reported no injuries, but some, like Roseman, experienced significant property damage.

Though it lasted only a few minutes, the twister had residents in the area on edge, wondering if they would have to relive the last major tornado to hit Champaign County, which raked the northeastern side of Gifford on Nov. 17, 2013.

On that late-autumn Sunday, a funnel cloud touched down about 12:45 p.m. southeast of Thomasboro and quickly moved northeast, growing to a half-mile wide and EF-3 intensity by the time it reached Gifford, where its 140-mph winds destroyed 30 homes and heavily damaged 40 others.

On Tuesday evening, when she stepped out of her house to assess the damage, Roseman said she was shocked. The metal roof of her husband's tool shed lay crumpled in the farmland that surrounds her home. Fluffy white insulation from the roof covered the lawn. The house's sliding glass doors were cracked. Roseman said she was grateful that none of her children were near the door when it cracked — although she doesn't know exactly when that happened.

"We're just grateful we still have a house, and we still have our belongings," she said.

Roseman said Wednesday that her family was waiting on insurers to assess the damage to their property.

Across the street, Kustom Services owner Jerry Maberry experienced a lift-off of his own — sort of.

Maberry said he and his son watched the storm through the front window of their house. Like Roseman, they said they didn't hear any warning sirens.

As they watched an above-ground pool take off and breeze past their window — "like a flying saucer," Maberry said — they still weren't sure if there was a tornado.

"Him and I were laughing about it," Maberry said. "I said, 'Let's go get the pool,' and I walked out the front door — I thought (the pool) went out toward U.S. 136, but it wasn't there. That's when I turned around and saw all of this."

Maberry was referring to his two sheds — workspaces where he does custom restoration and design for cars — which suffered significant damage, their roofs torn off and parts of the buildings collapsing inward. Old cars lay buried under debris. Supplies he uses in the business he'd practiced as a hobby for years were strewn about. A nearby barn — possibly close to 100 years old, he said — also suffered structural damage, but by Wednesday, Maberry was still waiting on a full report.

"The sheriff's department was here really quick," he said. "I think they said we had about $175,000 to $200,000 in damages."

Maberry is still waiting for insurers to confirm that amount. He said he and the friends and coworkers with him Wednesday started cleaning up the debris-covered yard as soon as they were able — which meant kicking off the work around 5 that morning. Susie Shaffer, who was helping clear the debris, said it was hard to look at what a few moments of weather had done to Maberry's livelihood.

"It's hard to look at something you dreamed about doing your whole life and then, just in a blink of an eye, it's gone," she said. "And there is absolutely nothing you can do. You are helpless — that's the sad part. You don't have control."

As for Maberry? He knows he's experienced a setback. But he's also just glad he and his family came out unscathed.

"I'm glad it missed the house, and two, I'm glad we didn't need an ambulance or a coroner," he said. "That's the main thing."

News-Gazette staff writer Lyndsay Jones and WDWS' Tim Ditman contributed to this report.

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