Illinois photographer builds bonds after April 9 tornado - – Rockford’s News Leader

Illinois photographer builds bonds after April 9 tornado


From capturing photos of local basketball, a bride on her big day, and seniors in high school to leveled homes, scattered precious mementos, and the path of an EF-4 tornado; Erik Anderson is a local photographer who went toward Fairdale to photograph damage photos after the April 9th, 2015 tornadoes.

"I'm running across the field with all of my gear and it feels like it's sort of like an end of the world experience," Anderson said while reminiscing on the day. He wasn't able to get into Fairdale immediately after the storm, but drove the path of damage just outside of the town.

It was on that path where Anderson met a man named Earl. Earl Hagemeyer's home once sat a few miles southwest of Fairdale before it was leveled by the tornado. Hagemeyer's home was almost completely destroyed, and he allowed Anderson to tour the home and take photos.

"The first place I opened was the door to the kitchen, and I walked in and it was the creepiest thing I've ever seen in my life," Anderson said.

 "There was no roof. There was everything you could ever imagine in everyone else' kitchen, but it was all over the place," Anderson said.

"It was weird because there was a rocking chair there, and I imagined taking these photos with people living their everyday lives. There was a fireplace, two CD's on the ground, and a cool green shade of carpet. There was debris all over," Anderson said. 

Anderson was most surprised by the calm and welcoming nature of his new friend.

Earl and his wife, Bonnie, lived in their home for 48 years until April 9th, 2015. The couple gives their two friends credit for their safety that night. The Hagemeyers said the friends brought them dinner that night, before running outside and seeing the tornado. The four of them got to the basement only minutes before the kitchen they were sitting in was torn to pieces.

"We probably would've been in the kitchen, We had to go past the refrigerator to get to the basement. It was moved and thrown around. I don't think we would've been in this good of shape," Bonnie said. Bonnie prayed while knelt down on the basement floor, with bath towels over her head, while Earl's mind went straight to work.

"I looked around, I didn't see anything standing anywhere. The garage was gone, the shed was gone," Earl said.

Some of the damage Erik Anderson witnessed as he made his way through Fairdale
(Some of the damage Erik Anderson witnessed during his time in Fairdale on April 9, 2015)

Bonnie was in a neck-brace while Earl was picking up the pieces of their home. He wasn't alone for long.

The couple says the streets were littered with people, from family and friends, to acquaintances and strangers. Earl and Bonnie built their new home on the same land, carefully placing scriptures in the walls during construction.

"It's nice to be back where we have been for a long time," Bonnie said.

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