August 6, 2008

High Winds Whip Through Area

By Jerry McDowelland Ryan Denham

CORNELL - When Tuesday morning's storm blew by Kathy Gragson's farm a few miles north of Cornell, she thought her new home was a goner.

Instead, her barn and one of her tool sheds took the brunt of the damage. Like many others, Gragson and her family spent much of Tuesday picking up debris from a storm that weather officials said carried winds that neared 80 mph at times.

"It looked like a war zone out there," said Gragson, who was waiting to find out if her barn - which had its roof torn off - would be considered a total loss.

The strong early morning storm also flattened scores of trees, damaging several homes and knocking out power to thousands.

"This is the worst wind storm in 34-plus years I've been with the city," said Jim Lehman, public works director for Eureka, where the storm caused a power outage for virtually the entire city until mid- afternoon.

While McLean County had some downed tree limbs, the worst of the weatherr was west and north of the Twin Cities. Farther north, the Chicago suburbs were cleaning up Tuesday after their own bout with nasty weather Monday night, when two tornadoes touched down in Bloomingdale and Bolingbrook, the National Weather Service said.

There have been no reports of injuries in Central Illinois.

Massive power outages

Almost 30,000 Ameren customers started Tuesday without power, and Peoria County and surrounding counties were the hardest hit. The utility had 160 tree trimmers and more than 200 linemen working on outages through the day, said spokesman Leigh Morris. By 2:45 p.m. power was restored to downtown Eureka and other sections were gradually regaining electricity.

"This has been anything but a good year," Morris said. "It takes a toll. It's not what you want to be doing."

The outages shut down virtually every business in Eureka. Candie Crismon, manager of Huck's Convenience Food Store, 205 W. Center St., estimated she lost $6,000 in business by noon as she moved frozen items to another location.

Ed Shimon, meteorologist with the National Weather service in Lincoln, said winds in the area ranged from 60 mph to 70 mph, but it appears they may have jumped to 70 mph to 80 mph if whole trees were felled.

In Eureka, the wind sheared off about a dozen tall oak trees at Lake Eureka, at least three tall trees crashed into homes, and yards throughout the city of 5,000 were strewn with large branches.

One of the more badly damaged homes was occupied by David Prather, 707 S. Hilldale Ave., who was in his kitchen about 5:15 a.m. when a large hickory tree crashed into his roof.

Prather said his wife was taking their 1-year-old to the basement when the tree fell, punching several holes in the roof.

Playground damage

One tree damaged a section of the $36,000 playground recently completed at Lake Eureka.

"We'll have most of the town cleared up in a week," Lehman said.

A tree reportedly landed on a residence in Streator as a result of storms Monday night, said Rich Brumer with the National Weather Service in Romeoville. There were numerous reports of downed trees and power lines in the Streator area, Brumer said.

In Roanoke, a tree limb 3 feet in diameter reportedly fell on a house, said Dan Kelly with the weather service.

In McLean County, there were reports of trees on power lines but no structural damage, Kelly said.

Tony Sapochetti and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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