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Tornado Kills One in Northern Illinois

Gilbert Sebenste NIU/WNIJ

One person was killed and an unknown number injured when a massive tornado tore a path across northern Illinois Thursday. The area hit hardest is the small DeKalb county town of Fairdale, near the intersection of I-39 and Highway 72.

That’s where one person was killed, according to Rockford Fire Department officials, who were assisting in the rescue efforts. Most of the buildings in the town of 150 residents are said to have been damaged and roads were blocked off by debris. Plows had to be deployed so emergency workers could reach victims.

Earlier in the tornado’s path, a popular Rochelle restaurant was destroyed. A dozen people were sheltered in the basement of Grubsteakers and emerged unharmed.  

The tornado first touched down around 6:35 in Ashton, then continued to move north for more than an hour, according to Northern Illinois University meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste. 

Emergency management and National Weather Service teams will survey the area Friday, assessing damage and the paths of at least two tornadoes. The largest started near Franklin Grove in Lee County, moved through Rochelle, crossed Interstate 39, hit the Fairdale area in far northwest DeKalb County, pushed into Boone County, and finally fizzled out near Harvard in McHenry County. Another tornado was spotted near the Rockford Airport, then moved into Cherry Valley and Boone County.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" fromthe Illinois Associated Press andrecipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.