Loved ones reflect on deadly tornado 20 years later

August 30, 2010 5:49:31 AM PDT
Twenty years ago Saturday, a tornado tore through the southwest suburbs, slamming the village of Plainfield and killing 29 people.More than 300 others were injured.

Saturday, the victims were remembered during a special memorial.

The tornado was the most powerful to ever hit the Chicago area, and for many, the memories of that day are still strong.

In the coming weeks, 29 trees will be planted in a Plainfield park, one to remember each of the victims.

Survivors and the victims' loved ones gathered Saturday at the same hour, the same minute, and in the same town where the tornado turned their lives upside down.

"I woke up this morning and said, 'Not 20 [years],'" said Helen Kachel, who's husband, Jim, died in the tornado.

The tornado peeled apart the couple's home. Her husband was driving a few miles away.

The uncertainty is what many survivors say they remember about the early hours and days after the tornado.

" "If you lost someone, you'd have their pictures, their clothing to remember. I have none of that, no pictures, no anything. Just gone. This helps," said Justina Page, who's daughter and granddaughter died.

"I couldn't figure out where our house was because everything was gone. Then, to finally find your family and learn your father had been killed. It was a blur," Sue Vaira told ABC7 Chicago.

Sue was 21 years old when the storm stole her father.

"They said, you have to come back because we have to make things as normal as we can," said her mother, Nancy Fox. "It doesn't feel like 20 years. It feels like maybe yesterday. Everything is still very vivid in our memories."

"It is my home. I've lived there all my life. I have been here since I was 4 years old. It is where I want to be," Sue Vaira said.

With the help of her late father's brother, they did rebuild their home and continue to live there.

"Feels like it was yesterday. It's still very close to me," said Kay Foley, who lost a friend in tornado.

She came with other ladies to pay tribute to Sister Mary Keenan, the principal of a church school that was leveled. Mary Gleason remembers rushing to help.

"The smell and devestation and frantic people. It was a nightmare that was alive," Gleason said.

Those attending Saturday's ceremonies said the upside of losing someone in such a public disaster was the outpouring of support from residents of the southwest suburbs and people all over northern Illinois.


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