A Look Back: Survivors remember the 1967 Belvidere tornado
BELVIDERE (WREX) -
It has been nearly a half century since a tornado tore through Belvidere, killing 24 people. But for the survivors, their memories are still fresh.
The tornado was an F-4 — the same strength as the tornado that hit Rochelle and Fairdale on April 9 less than two week ago.
It was nearly 4 p.m. on Friday, April 21,1967. Children were just put on the school bus to to go home. Sue Rodakowski was on one with her little sister and brother. After the tornado hit, their parents couldn't find them.
"They were searching for us for hours, my mom. There was a makeshift morgue in the gym. She went in there and there was a little boy there. And the only reason she knew it wasn't my brother was because she put stretchy socks on him that day and this little boy didn't have stretching sock," Rodakowski says.
The bus driver had opened the door right before the tornado hit and urged the kids to try to run back to the school.
Rodakowski's brother and sister made it off. She was in the back and couldn't. Rodakowski was only 9 years old at the time, a third grader. She could only sit there as a tornado barreled down on her.
"Debris from the tornado was hitting the windows and I remember going like this with my ears because it was stifling. So the next thing I know we were rolling, rolling and I hurt my neck. The bus stopped, I was upside down. I remember getting out because there was huge hole in the back of the bus."
"My oldest sister was on a bus, her bus had gotten picked up by a twister, rolled I don't know several times. The bus driver was deceased. I remember her saying they had to kick the windows out to try to get out of the bus," says Nancy Hern, a survivor.
Hern rode out the tornado at a friend's house. She was just 6 years old at the time and was already home from kindergarten. She remembers the frantic search for her older sister. It took 5 hours before her family found her, covered in cuts and bruises from the debris.
"Everyone was so afraid," Karen Cantele says.
Cantele was in kindergarten and already home when the tornado hit. Her older sister was also on a bus. It was thrown 30 feet in the air.
"She said when we came to, the seats were all on top of us. One girl finally said we have to get out," Cantele says.
Cantele's sister's bus was in a neighborhood. She says families came from their homes and took in the children, keeping them safe until their parents could find them.
"Everyday on this day is tornado day and it's been 48 years but you don't forget it. I mean that changed our community," Hern says.
The tornado was only on the ground for about 3 minutes. It killed 24 people and hurt more than 500 others.