50th anniversary of deadly Belvidere tornadoes

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A solemn memorial took place in Belvidere, Illinois, on Friday. It was one of the towns leveled by an outbreak of deadly tornadoes on 50 years ago on April 21. (WLS)

A solemn memorial took place in Belvidere, Illinois, on Friday. It was one of the towns leveled by an outbreak of deadly tornadoes on 50 years ago on April 21.

The twisters caused 58 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries.

At least 10 tornadoes touched down and cut a path of destruction through northeast Illinois. Among the towns hardest hit were suburban Oak Lawn and Belvidere, near Rockford, where 24 people died.

Recalling a day that forever changed Belvidere. It was 50 years ago a violent EF4 Tornado wreaked havoc on this community about 70 miles northwest of downtown Chicago. The twister took lives, caused injuries and destroyed property.

Those with memories of that day shared their stories at Belvidere High School.

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A solemn memorial took place in Belvidere, Illinois, on Friday. It was one of the towns leveled by an outbreak of deadly tornadoes on 50 years ago on April 21.



"I remember loading the bus in a complete downpour and heading to high school despite some concerns about the weather," said Ronald Day, a Belvidere tornado survivor.

Ronald Day was seven years old at the time. The first grader was on a school bus like so many other students heading home from school when the tornado hit.

"All of sudden our bus driver, Nick, yelled, 'Get down, it's a tornado.' But being seven years old, I had no earthly clue what a tornado was. All I knew was the windows were breaking and you couldn't hear a thing from the pounding of the hail on the metal bus," said Day.
Schools buses were tossed around like toys with the 260-mile-per-hour winds. Day was thrown from the bus. He survived. His sister Mary also survived. Their sister Cindy did not.

"Mary was with Cindy in the back of the bus and although she never said so, we believe that Mary was holding Cindy when she died," said Day.

In Belvidere, 24 people were killed, including 17 school children. At the memorial service on Friday afternoon, they read the names of the victims.

It's a day those who lived it will never forget, but for many their stories are too painful to share.

"This is the first time I have spoken publicly about the event. I have only talked to close personal friends and even they never heard the complete story. I must confess that it was extremely hard for me to put down in writing this little bit that I'm sharing with you today," said Day.

Parents scrambled to locate their kids in the aftermath of the tornadoes. Connie Harris was one of the injured.

"As a parent today I can't even imagine what they must have went through. I am 63-years-old and it still seems like yesterday. I know that what I went through was nothing compared to what others had," said Connie Harris.

Survivors were grateful of the lives they lived.

"Today I thought all day of had I not made it through that, I wouldn't have a daughter, I wouldn't have grandsons, and I wouldn't have my brother and sisters. So I'm very thankful," said Linda Wennmacher, a survivor of the tornadoes.

The memorial service ended at 3:50 p.m. While it was by accident, it was the exact moment the tornado hit the community 50 years ago.
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