UTICA, Ill. (AP) - A resident of north-central Illinois thought it was fitting that skies were overcast Monday as the area marked the 10th anniversary of a devastating tornado by honoring the eight people killed in the storm.
Tina Guerrero of Utica was standing with her husband, Tom, near the village’s memorial plaza when she looked up at the darkening sky.
“How perfect,” she quipped. “It’s raining.”
A powerful storm swept through Utica on April 20, 2004, caving in the century-old sandstone walls of the Milestone Tap restaurant and tavern. Eight people were found dead in the wreckage the following day, while nine others were found alive in the rubble. Infant Sean Kennedy Brown suffered pre-natal injuries in the storm and later died; he is considered the storm’s ninth victim.
The tornado - which had winds that reached up to 205 mph - was one of 16 twisters that hit Illinois, according to the National Weather Service. Nearly 30 twisters were reported across Illinois, Iowa and Indiana.
Ten years ago, Tom Guerrero surveyed the extensive damage caused by the storm and could only compare it to a bomb going off in the middle of town.
“So much has changed since then,” Guerrero told the LaSalle News-Tribune Monday. “The biggest thing was the community coming together. That’s why so much has changed.”
Since the storm, Utica rebuilt its village offices, moved its fire station to a more central site, realigned Route 178 and erected the memorial plaza honoring the lives lost.
“In a little over 10 minutes,” recalled Pastor Lloyd Johnson during Monday’s ceremony, “death, destruction and despair settled in over the community. Today, we look upon (Utica) as the jewel of the Illinois Valley.”
Utica updated the plaza Monday, with Mayor Gloria Alvarado unveiling a rotating sculpture fabricated and donated by artist Steve Seaborn of Peru, a tornado survivor whose South Bluff neighbors had home damage.
Seaborn fused auger blades in the shape of a tornado and interspersed the swirling metal with stainless steel hearts etched with the initials of the nine victims. The sculpture was set onto a pivot in the ground a few feet west of the stone plaza.
After the 15-minute ceremony concluded, some walked to the sculpture to give it a whirl.
Information from: News-Tribune, https://www.newstrib.com
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