"My house is gone. I knew I didn't have anything there. We went to work and helped the other people that needed the help. I got there this morning around 5 a.m. to see that my house was gone. This is what I was told and what I expected," Sheriff VanVickle said.
Only minor injuries were reported in Rochelle, compared to the two deaths in nearby Fairdale. Sheriff VanVickle said advance warning on social media made all the difference.
Sheriff VanVickle said tornado sirens sounded in Rochelle a full 27 minutes before the first funnel cloud sighting. The first 911 call for help did not come in until about 40 minutes after that sighting.
"I don't think you could have asked for better advanced warning," he said.
Soon after the National Weather Service issued the warning around 7 p.m. Thursday, he said the sheriff's office was able to post it on social media and alert residents and keep them up to date.
The damage extends through Flagg Township, northeast through the county to the intersection of Route 251 and Route 64. The path of the tornado appears to be at least a quarter-mile wide. Chopper video shows that the tornado appears to have been on the ground for at least 25 miles.
Once rescue teams conducted searches, the cleanup began. Devastated homeowners were joined by friends, coworkers and even strangers as they picked up the pieces. Phillip Robbin, who works for Eagle Eye Tree Service, came from Downers Grove.
"We're all human. And sometimes you can't chase money. You just have to be willing to help. And give a helping hand to people who are in need. And right now, all these people ae in desperate need," Robbin said.
Rob Frye came to help a coworker whose home was destroyed.
"It's what friendship and neighbors and family is all about. It's overwhelming to see that many people come out and help," Frye said.
The help is needed, but the sheriff is asking those who want to volunteer to wait until the community has had time to plan. Volunteers from outside of the area will not be allowed into the town until the weekend. How to help the tornado victims
GRUBSTEAKERS RESTAURANT LEVELED
Ava Fejzoski's family has owned Grubsteakers, a popular restaurant in Rochelle, for more than a decade. She was in tears for most of the morning on Friday, as she came to terms with what she has lost.
"I'm glad everybody is alive and everybody got out safe. But still, this is my life. This is where I raised my kids. This is where I make a living. So, it's hard. It's hard," Fejzoski said.
Grubsteakers before the tornado:
Grubsteakers after the tornado:
Twelve people took cover in the basement Thursday night after they saw the tornado coming their way.
Raymond Kramer, 81, and his wife of 48 years, Betty, were on their way home from Rockford when hail started to pelt their car. Betty insisted he pull over and the couple sought shelter inside the restaurant. They soon found themselves in a dirt-floored basement without a second to spare above ground.
"We were going inside and stopped in the door. I was taking pictures of the tornado coming. Finally, the manager of the store, the owner of restaurant said, 'Everybody in basement, right now!' I stopped taking pictures and we went into the storm cellar, an old fashioned storm cellar," Kramer said.
He said immediately after they made it to the basement, the storm hit the building and laid an entire metal wall on top of the cellar door.
Kramer said the tornado sounded like the roar of a train. When it was gone, an intense quiet.
"Once it hit and was gone and quiet. I had never heard that quiet. No one was saying a word down there," Kramer said.
The group was trapped underground for about 40 minutes before they heard rescuers call from up above.
The Kramers said the devastation around them when they got out of the cellar was jarring.
"They said, 'Just be prepared when you go out for what you're going to see.' I thought, 'I'm fine. I've seen stuff like that before.' I came out and I just about fell apart," Betty Kramer said.
"Trucks turned over and signs just crunched in two like they were paper and the people - and people were crying. It was devastating," she said.
The overturned semi Betty saw belonged to a driver who had also stopped here to escape the tornado. Neither he nor anyone else in the restaurant was hurt.