Severe storms hit CU

A tree uprooted from the sidewalk at the 600 block of Illinois Street during the storm that passed through Champaign-Urbana on Sunday night. Josh Birnbaum

By Tracy Culumber

As tornado sirens sounded and heavy rains began to fall just after 7 p.m. Sunday evening, the METCAD Emergency Alert System warned viewers to “take cover to save your life.”

No injuries were reported as of publication Sunday, but residents throughout Champaign County reported power outages, network outages, wind damage and fallen branches.

Robert Reece, meteorologist at WCIA, said there were no confirmed tornado touchdowns in Champaign County, at the time of this report. He said the storm system began early this afternoon, and there were unconfirmed reports of touchdowns to the south and east of Champaign.

Scott Olthoff, meteorologist at WILL, said although winds reached speeds of about 74 mph at Willard Airport at 7:14 p.m., tornado touchdowns probably could not be confirmed until the morning.

Captain Bob Quinlan of the Champaign Fire Department estimated that the department received about 50 calls in Champaign alone. He said most people reported downed power lines, transformer problems and that power outages were very widespread.

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The north side of Green Street, from Sixth Street to Wright Street, had no power at the time of this report.

Bob Osiek, co-owner of the Esquire Lounge, located at the corner of University Avenue and Walnut Street in Champaign, said the wind blew a large pile of aluminum siding and other junk materials from second story apartments onto the patio area on the south side of the building.

Osiek said there was no structural damage to the establishment and dispelling the rumors that the roof of the building had blown off.

“Somebody just got excited,” Osiek said. “We want to put that myth to bed. (The debris was) just junk and I wanted to get rid of it anyway.”

On the corner of First and Healey streets, Champaign firefighters watched and guarded downed power lines to make sure nobody walked or drove over them. Samantha Myers, sophomore in Business, reported the downed lines to the police.

“We all came down (to the street) when the sirens came on,” Myers said. “It got really windy and (the power lines) came down.”

Lauren McNeill, sophomore in Engineering and resident advisor at FAR, said she was in the cafeteria when the tornado sirens sounded.

“The windows in the dining hall were shaking and the lights were flickering,” McNeil said. “The other RAs and I tried to move people because they were congregating in the doorway and blocking the entrances to the basement. We tried to calm people down.”

Several students said they took shelter in the basements of residence halls and the Illini Union.

“There was no wind and it was almost eerily calm, then all of a sudden the wind picked up and was really strong,” said Ryan Lowe, freshman in LAS, who was outside Allen Hall. “That’s when we heard the sirens.”

Marella McMurray, sophomore in ALS, said she was in her room, but got scared and ran to the basement of FAR.

“I turned on the TV and saw that there was a tornado warning, so I called my parents,” McMurray said. “This hasn’t happened since I’ve been here.”

Beth Scheid, CITES director of communications technologies, said about 10 buildings across campus experienced network outages, but the core of the network is undamaged. She said the network outages resulted from the loss of power in specific campus buildings.

“Sometimes when the power comes back on, the network equipment will automatically reset itself, sometimes you need manual intervention,” Scheid said. “First thing tomorrow morning we’ll be sending people out. It sounded like Swanlund (Administration Building) was in one of the areas that got hit by one of the outages.”

According the CITES status of services Web site, Swanlund, the educational theory annex, the horticulture field laboratory and Orchard Downs Apartments were among the buildings that had network outages.

Patti Thompson, communications manager for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said the state emergency center was activated and that the system moved over the majority of the state, but was most severe in central and southern Illinois.

Thompson said no counties have requested aid as of Sunday night.

The Daily Illini staff contributed to this report.