Storms leave thousands without power

June 18, 2010 (CHICAGO)

The storms brought with them high winds, heavy rain and frequent lightning strikes.

On one West side corner, the wind blasted bricks off a building, blew out the windows, and uprooted the backyard tree, which then crushed Lora Rice's car.

She was a few feet away.

"If we would have got in my car, we would have been dead," said Rice.

Rice says the strong wind that caused this damage lifted her and two friends off the ground.

"I was flying in the air," said friend Brenda Alcorn. "I can't believe this stuff is happening in Chicago."

Another friend was trapped underneath a fence and injured.

"I thought I was dead," she said.

A block away, winds blew down a brick wall at a waterproofing company.

"The winds started whipping things around, and the next thing you know the wall blew over," said warehouse manager Will Coney.

At around 10 p.m. Friday, Commonwealth Edison reported 253,000 total customers without power, including 81,000 in Chicago.

The line of storms that went through Friday late afternoon was organized in what is known as a 'bow echo' on radar, a configuration prone to produce high winds.

It first blew through the western suburbs, moving at a speed of about 55 miles per hour.

People moving about the Chicago area outside Friday night are advised to be careful as several live electrical wires have been downed.

Numerous reports of wind speeds above 60 miles per hour were received by the National Weather Service Friday, as well as reports of downed trees and power lines. Hail and winds above 80 miles were also reported in some areas.

In one West Side neighborhood near Harrison and Francisco, trees uprooted by the wind littered streets. Cars were also blown over.

Residents were seen cleaning up the streets, trying to clear the way for their vehicles.

Some said they had never such strong winds in the area.

"It was like a hurricane, and just came through like all of a sudden," resident George Jefferson said.

"It was everywhere. Blowing everywhere. Wind, the trees. I looked out the window, about everything in my house blew off the shelf," said resident Dianna Courtes.

The scene at the Randolph Street Market Fest in the West Loop also showed storm damage. When the storms rolled in, people at that festival ran for cover as quickly as possible. Signs were seen blowing through the street.

Near Wrigley Field on the North Side, the storm blew in more trouble. Kicking things off on a bad note, the Cubs lost to the L.A. Angels. After the game, the storms blasted the field. Damage was apparent in the area.

The Chicago Fire Department confirmed that windows were broken at the Willis Tower in the storm. No injuries have been reported from that incident, but area streets are blocked off.

By Friday evening, there were 425 reports of downed trees throughout the area.

The storms quickly darkened skies in the Loop and other areas before roaring in with thunder, wind and downpours. The worst of the storms ended within about 20 minutes Friday afternoon.

Earlier in the day, temperatures had been near 90 degrees, with the heat index approaching 100. The temperature dropped almost 20 degrees during the first set of storms.

Once the storm that passed through downtown Chicago during the afternoon made it over Lake Michigan, where straight-line winds can sometimes get going more strongly, a gust of 77 miles per hour was measured.

On the Eisenhower Expressway, tree limbs blocked lanes, slowing down traffic, and that same scene unfolded on Harrison, where residents pitched in and cleared the roadway.

Asked how bad it was, West Side resident George Jefferson said: "On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say it was an eleven."

"I've been here all my life - I've never seen anything like this before," said resident Lakesha Williams.

The wind also blew over utility poles - and some electrical wires burned and sparked on the ground.

A second batch of storms rolled through late Friday night, packing more high winds and heavy rains. The forecast calls for a less stormy weekend following a turbulent Friday.

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