STORM WATCH: Worker 'in complete awe looking at all the damage'

2010-11-22T13:18:00Z 2010-11-24T14:53:45Z STORM WATCH: Worker 'in complete awe looking at all the damage'Journal Times staff Journal Times

CORRECTION: This story initially reported there was a major gas leak at Oak Ridge Care Center for the elderly, at 1400 8th Ave., based on incorrect information from officials, who clarified Wednesday they had initially received a report of a possible gas leak at the center but no actual leak was found. The error has been corrected.

RACINE COUNTY - Strong storms have moved through the area. Two tornados, one apparent tornado in Union Grove and one in Walworth County, have been reported.

The Journal Times will continue to update this story. Here are the latest updates on the storm:

7:17 p.m. - Inside Grove Gear

Tornado sirens went off inside Grove Gear at least six minutes before the apparent tornado hit, said Jamie Darracott, 40, an assembly worker at the plant. He is on the company's first response team, and started going around to make sure the building was clear and everyone was in the tornado shelters.

There is no basement at the plant, he said, so everyone went into the bathrooms. Everyone was inside, he said.

"I heard some thunder," he said. "Then, a couple minutes later, everybody heard a really loud noise. It kept getting louder and louder and we realized it was the roof that got ripped off."

When they came out, he said, it was very dark.

"The emergency lights were on, and if you looked up toward the front of the building you could see the roof was ripped off and the rain was coming in," he said.

As everything was calming down, he said, they started to smell gas. At that point, they let everyone go home.

Darracott drove off immediately, he said, and was "in complete awe looking at all the damage."

After leaving the building, the first thing he saw was a gigantic tree on the fair grounds that had been snapped in half.

"It threw the whole top of the tree into the front of Grove Gear," he said. "There were poles down, car accidents. I was in complete awe."

7:05 p.m. - Officials ask those without power to seek shelter elsewhere

There is a major gas leak at the American Legion Hall at 1027 New St., according to Tom Czerniak, Union Grove Fire Department chief. No injuries have been attributed to the reported tornado.

Officials are saying residents without power should seek shelter with relatives or friends because of the temperature change tonight.

David Maack, emergency management coordinator, and a representative of the Union Grove-Yorkville Fire Department will be going up on helicopters shortly to assess the damage.

6:35 p.m. - Storms hit during parent-teacher conferences

Closed roads are currently prohibiting people from entering or leaving Union Grove.

The reported tornado followed 71st Drive from Highway 11 to Mill Avenue, said Tom Czerniak, Union Grove Fire Department chief.

When the storms hit, Union Grove Elementary School, 1745 Milldrum St., was hosting many parents for parent-teacher conferences, said Brenda Stevenson, district administrator.

"It was hectic but everything was fine," Stevenson said, adding parents and staff were directed to safe areas in the school. "You could definitely hear something out there. It was a little scary...We were concerned but (parents) were still coming in (for conferences). I don't think they even realized the weather was bad."

Stevenson said no one was injured and the school building is fine despite having no power and some minor flooding.

"The staff did a wonderful job," she said. "We were prepared for it."

Union Grove High School, 3433 S. Colony Ave., is preparing to be a shelter tonight, if needed, said David Maack, Racine County emergency management coordinator.

6:33 p.m. - Gas leaks at two care centers

Shepherds Home and School for adults with developmental disabilities, at 1805 15th Ave. has a confirmed gas leak. Residents at the center have not been evacuated because the gas has been shut off, said Tom Czerniak, Union Grove Fire Department chief.

Czerniak said blankets are being brought to Oak Ridge where officials are also trying to get generators started.

A possible gas leak was reported at Oak Ridge Care Center for the elderly, at 1400 8th Ave., but officials later clarified no actual leak was found.

6:30 p.m. - Crews working to restore damage

Most of We Energies' emergency crews are in Racine County, working to repair significant damage from the severe storm that came through this afternoon.

As of 6:15 p.m., about 3,100 customers were without power, said spokesman Barry McNulty. The biggest group of those is in Union Grove, where 1,400 customers have no power. Slightly fewer customers, about 1,200 customers, were without power in Dover. Yorkville had 275 reported customers without power, he said, and Rochester about 26 customers.

"We have crews obviously responding to Union Grove because of reports of the tornado that hit the area at 11 and 45, predominantly to the south of Highway 11," McNulty said. "We have areas that power needs to be restored as well as obviously debris tangled in our equipment and things like that."

People are also reporting the smell of gas, McNulty said, which is typical after a tornado has gone through a population center like the village. Usually, that is from a gas meter or piping that may have been hit by winds or debris. They will then shut off gas service to the area, he said.

"Folks will be out throughout the night," he said.

Daytime crews were kept on, once they saw how strong the storm was as it moved through the Rockford, Ill., area.

"We held our crews knowing they would be responding to some, at a minimum, lights out calls," he said. "The difficult is, with nightfall, knowing what wires are down."

The darkness makes it more dangerous for crews, he said, but also for residents who may want to go out and inspect damage or start cleaning up.

His advice was simple: "Do not move downed wires."

Also, he said, avoid picking up debris at this point.

"With the lights out, they think (power lines) are de-energized," McNulty said. "That's not necessarily the case. We'd hate to have an injury or a death. (Live wires) can be dangling onto an aluminum fence, you touch that fence and you would be a conductor for that energy yourself."

6:25 p.m. - Trucks trying to pull up semi

Four tow trucks are in position to try to pull up the overturned semi truck on Highway 20, with a crowd of at least 50 people watching it.

6:20 p.m. - Witness describes apparent tornado

Charlie Minor of Union Grove was upstairs when the reported tornado came through. 

“It actually sounded like a train,” he said. 

“It was grabbing stuff in the yard and just taking them straight up into the air,” Minor said. “Just grab it, pull it, take it up into the air.”

The winds twisted a pear tree off the ground, damaged three buildings and took out some of their fence, he said.

6:08 p.m. - Highway 11 blocked due to gas leak

Highway 11 is blocked off just west of Grove Gear, 1524 15th Ave. in Union Grove, because of a gas leak.

6:07 p.m. - Store employee, customer knocked off their feet

Zachary Barnes, an employee of the Citgo Auto Truck Mart at the northwest corner of Highway 20 and I-94, was trying to let a woman into the station as the storm was raging. When he was finally able to push the door open, the door slammed open and shattered. The gust of wind knocked them both off their feet, about 15 feet into the store. 

5:59 p.m. - Driver reportedly taken to hospital

According to one official from South Shore Fire and Rescue, the driver of the semi truck that turned over on Highway 20 was taken to the hospital.

5:54 p.m. - Roof ripped off of Grove Gear

About 10,000 square feet of roof was ripped off of Grove Gear, 1524 15th Ave., while about 80 employees were inside this afternoon, said general manager Scott Anderson.

The employees were in a tornado shelter and no one was injured. There is so far no damage estimate but officials will meet tomorrow to asses the damage and make a plan, Anderson said.

Grove Gear, which makes boxes, will be closed tomorrow but officials hope to open as soon as possible, he said.

5:50 p.m. - Burger King still cooking

At the Burger King in Union Grove, 1141 15th Ave., the sign and trees are down but food is still cooking.

"I've got a whole lobby full of people because there's nobody with power but me," said Denise Erdman, Burger King general manager. "I gotta feed all these people dinner."

5:44 p.m. - Maack receiving reports of damage

Racine County Emergency Management Director David Maack said he has been juggling telephone calls since the storm hit.

"I've heard reports that there ... may have been roof damage at Grove Gear," he said. "There are utility poles down, that's obviously a big one out there. There's a lot of tree limbs, a lot of debris. We're told there may be damage to Shepherds Home. We don't know the extent of that or what type of damage. These are all preliminary, and they could change."

One of his major concerns right now is trying to get a potential shelter lined up, in the event that they need to evacuate Shepherds Home, a residential living facility for adults with developmental disabilities. The home, 1805 15th Ave., is just south of Highway 11 on the west side of Union Grove.

Maack said there have been numerous reports of gas leaks in the village, as well as downed power lines. He has not had official confirmation that this was a tornado, but has reports from trained spotters that they saw some of the signs of a tornado, including funnel clouds.

"I haven't seen the damage yet," he said. "Every indication we've received is that there has been a tornado."

The National Weather Service is the agency that will confirm whether or not a tornado touched down, but Maack said he does not know whether their staff would be out assessing damage tonight, or on Tuesday morning.

One challenge, he said, was the timing of the storm.

"This thing hit around 4 o'clock or so, and it got dark pretty quickly," he said. 

5:41 p.m. - Units blown off gas station roof

At the Citgo station northwest of Highway 20 and the Interstate, one large heating and one large air conditioning unit were both blown off the roof. The resulting natural gas leak resulted in the fire department coming to turn off the gas.

5:38 p.m. - Union Grove calling for assistance

The Union Grove-Yorkville Fire and Rescue Department has activated the third MABAS box alarm, calling for assistance from communities as far as South Milwaukee and Winthrop Harbor, Ill., to deal with the aftermath of the severe weather that came through the area this afternoon.

"I don't know if it was a tornado or it was high winds," said Fire Department Driver/Operator Pat Stevens, who was manning the station Monday evening. "We've got a lot of trees down, a lot of power lines down and multiple calls all at the same time."

He said everyone else the department had available was responding to calls for service. 

5:29 p.m. Semi trucks overturned

The Journal Times has confirmed three semis are overturned near the intersection of Highway 20 and I-94.

There are two overturned trailers at the Petro Center. A semi truck is completely on its side and is in the back parking lot of the Petro Center. Ryan Johnson, who was working at the Petro Lube, said that he ran out to the lot after the storm and there was nobody in the truck. 

A semi truck trailer, without a cab, is also on its side at the same location.

5:18 p.m. Truck rocked by storm

Tim Faubel, 52, of Shawano, Wisconsin was in his truck when the storm came through. The truck was rocking back and forth “really heavy,” he said. His truck did not turn over.

He was in the parking lot at the Petro Center at the intersection of Highway 20 and I-94.

5:12 p.m. - RVs knocked down

Several RVs have been knocked down at Burlington RV, located at the corner of the west frontage road and Highway 20. A portion of the fence has also been knocked down.

A semi truck has also turned over in that area.

5:05 p.m. The scene in Union Grove

Emergency vehicles are swarming downtown Union Grove.

"There's got to be at least five, probably more, ambulances on Main Street," said Toni Martin, a 33-year-old employee at Martin's Garage, 1422 Main St. in Union Grove.

During the storm Martin said she and other employees and customers took shelter in the basement.

"Our ears all popped," she said. When they emerged from the basement some damage was visible from Martin's. "From my window I can see the gas station on the corner of (highways) 11 and 45. The canopy over the pumps, some of the metal blew off there."

North of Martin's along 45, student athletes still at Union Grove High School, 3433 S. Colony Ave., took shelter during the storm in the school's math rooms on a lower level, said District Administrator Al Mollerskov. He said there was no damage to the school and the lights stayed on throughout the storm.

But Mollerskov said the center of Union Grove was likely hit hard because many streets are now shut down and numerous emergency vehicles have been flying toward downtown.

5 p.m. - Semi on its side

A semi is completely on its side, on Highway 20, just west of the interstate, according ot a Journal Times reporter on the scene.

4:38 p.m. - Customers without power

About 1,600 customers are without power in the Union Grove and Dover areas, according to We Energies spokeswoman Cathy Schultze.

"We do have crews out there working on it," she said. "We are getting reports of some severe damage."

She did not have specifics on the damage, but said they have heard there are trees down, high winds and downed power lines. Now, she said, it looks like the storm has moved out of that area.

"So we hope that's the worst of it," she said.

4:36 p.m. - Mutual aid alarm activated

A mutual aid box alarm has apparently been activated to help deal with the damage in Union Grove, according to scanner reports. 

4:30 p.m. - Sideways rain

Workers at Waterford businesses reported seeing heavy, sideways rain, but no tornadoes.

4:28 p.m. - 'Tornadic action' in the area

"We've got a lot of tornadic action right now, but we haven't confirmed anything," said Wisconsin State Patrol Sgt. Tony Burrell.

Traffic on I-94 was not shut down, he said, but they did use a rolling roadblock to allow the strong winds to come through after receiving a report that a funnel cloud may have been headed toward the highway.

4:22 p.m. - Deputy assessing damage

A deputy has been sent to Union Grove to check the damage.

"We will begin assessing the damage. If we need to open up shelters for displaced residents, that's something we would coordinate," said David Maack, Racine County emergency management coordinator, on a TV report.

He's in an emergency center, monitoring reports on the scanner.

4:20 p.m. - Semi overturned on frontage road

The semi is overturned on the west frontage road at Highway 20. No other vehicles are involved, according to scanner traffic.

4:18 p.m. - Interstate closed

According to media reports, Interstate 94 is closed in both directions and at least one semi has been flipped over. The Racine Sheriff's Department is calling in off-duty deputies, according to scanner reports.

4:15 p.m. - Trees, power lines down in Union Grove

Naveed Ahmed, who works at Rasul Petroleum, 1436 Main St., in Union Grove, said it's really windy and there's a lot of hail. The power's been out since about 4:05 p.m., he said. Lots of trees are down outside.

Utility poles and wires are down south of Union Grove on Highway 45 south of 11, according to police scanner reports.

About 100 households are without power in the towns of Brighton and Paris in Kenosha County, and there are reports of some electrical service is out in the Dover area, said Brian Manthey, spokesman for We Energies.


Video from Channel 12

Earlier today

A tornado has been reported in the Union Grove area. A tornado touched down this afternoon in Walworth County, the Wisconsin State Patrol confirmed, adding there were no reports of damage.

A tornado warning has been issued for the area until 4:30 p.m. Racine County and northern Kenosha County are included in the warning issued by the National Weather Service. 

Sirens went off in Downtown Racine at approximately 3:35 p.m. At Batten International Airport at about 3:45 p.m., it was dark but the winds were calm, said airport accountant Matt Dean.

Bev Gill, city clerk in Burlington, said the tornado sirens went off and they went in the basement. Shortly before 4 p.m., it was lighter outside.


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