Small tornado causes large destruction on April 9 for Belvidere' - – Rockford’s News Leader

Small tornado causes large destruction on April 9 for Belvidere's Summerfield Zoo


The April 9 tornadoes came in all shapes and sizes, causing chaos throughout the Stateline area.

All 7 tornadoes were different in size and length on the ground, but that didn't stop them all from doing damage. 

The shortest-lived tornado that night struck a small zoo in Belvidere, the Summerfield Zoo.

It took less than a minute and EF-0 tornado to go over the Summerfield Zoo. Rick Anderson, the owner of the zoo, says the short amount of time caused massive amounts of damage.

The zoo is still looking to get back on it's feet a year later.

"It is hard to explain," Anderson said.

"It is like a big rock on your chest and you cannot breathe. When I first saw the destruction all I wanted to do was make sure everyone is alive and safe."

All of the people were safe and uninjured, but not all the animals. Summerfield Zoo is home to hundreds of exotic creatures taken in by the Anderson family.

Two of the animals, a Australian Black Swan and an Emu, were crushed under a fence. The fence was blown on top of the animals killing them instantly. 

(Some of the fencing destroyed by the EF-0 tornado that hit the Summerfield Zoo.)

Even in the heart of the storm, the Andersons rushed out of their basement to make sure the animals they spend their lives trying to protect were safe.

"We could not help ourselves," Anderson recalls. "It might have been risking our lives but we could not just leave them out there."

Summerfield lost three buildings to the short-lived tornado that the owners said all but disappeared. Two of the buildings were holding the zoo's signature Reindeer that miraculously survived. 

"We had to go out that night to catch them all," Anderson said. "We were in water almost up to our knees chasing reindeer and getting them back into a barn." 

Beside the buildings that disappeared, six other structures were damaged enough to be dangerous for the animals living there.
Anderson says the roof of a building holding the zoo's new baby camel, Humphrey, was completely gone. 

"The tornado was about 10 feet away from him when the roof blew off the building," Anderson explains. "The roof was then found in a tree over 50 feet in the air."

With the amount of damages to the family's home and the animal cages the Andersons say they were over their heads. 

"After a few hours of work, my first reaction was how could we keep the zoo up, how can we come back from this," Anderson said. "But the next morning we literally had hundreds and hundreds of people at our door wanting to help. When I saw the help it was like, well I guess now we have to."

April 10, thousands of volunteers from the Stateline area came to give support to the family-owned zoo. The Baumgartner family said the moment the heard the zoo was hit they got ready to come out and help.

"I received a phone call at about five in the morning from Danielle Anderson [Rick's daughter] saying the zoo had been hit," Jennifer Baumgartner said. "Instantly it was what can we do for you."

Jennifer, her daughter, Brianna, and her husband, Jeremy, came to volunteer, working from sunrise to sunset at Summerfield to help piece the zoo back together. 

"There were a lot of people who did not even know the zoo existed until the tornado hit," Jennifer explains. "Coming to help really made the community realize what they had here."

Volunteers, contractors and children spent countless hours making new fences, digging up dead trees and taking care of animals. 

"I was racking and cleaning," Brianna Baumgartner, 8 years old, said. "I was doing anything that they needed me to do."

Despite the destruction of the tornado, the Summerfield Zoo was able to open in the summer of 2015. The Andersons say this is because of the energy and passion of the volunteers that came to help.

"We had days out at the zoo and we would do it again in a heart beat." Jeremy Baumgartner said. 

The zoo needs to be done rebuilding by Saturday April 9, 2016. This is the deadline given to the zoo owners by their insurance company. If the repairs are not complete, they will loose will owe insurance thousands of dollars. 

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