Storm causes chaos, displaces 100-plus residents in Aurora
By Jenette Sturges firstname.lastname@example.org August 4, 2012 5:16PM
Debris litters the courtyard behind the Constitution House Apartments on Aurora's west side after a portion of its roof was torn off during a violent thunderstorm on Saturday, August 4, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 6, 2012 6:35AM
The Fox Valley was praying for a little rain, but the storm that blew through on Saturday afternoon proved that when it rains, it pours.
And that’s not always a good thing.
The storm dropped 1 to 2 inches across the Fox Valley in 30 minutes, beginning around 3:30 p.m.
Traffic snarled as drivers were caught in the sudden downpour and wind gusts, and traffic signals failed. Felled trees and downed power lines closed streets all over Aurora. On New York Street, a downed power line closed the main thoroughfare from East Avenue to Smith Street.
On the West Side, 96 residents were displaced when high winds tore off the rubber membrane of Constitution House, a seven-story apartment building for seniors. Water soaked through Floors 4 through 7 in the building, according to the City of Aurora.
“There was no water in my apartment, but the hallway has water,” said Chuck Gertie, who lives on the top floor. “I didn’t even notice. The fireman knocked on the door and said there was an electrical problem, so I evacuated. It’s a drag, but what are you gonna do?”
Meanwhile, a lightning strike caused fire on the roof of an apartment building at 513 Hartford Ave., on Aurora’s Southwest Side that displaced 17 residents. The fire caused approximately $20,000 in damage.
There were no injuries in either incident.
North Aurora suffered some of the worst damage.
The North Aurora Days festival was put on hold for about two hours when the storm interrupted the bags tournament that was relocated in an empty storefront adjacent to the festival. High winds blew down a tent covering food vendors.
There were no injuries, but a handful of vendors had damaged equipment, said Trustee Mark Gaffino.
Hillbilly Rockstars took the stage just 15 minutes late after sound and safety checks, and crowds started trickling back into the festival around 6 p.m.
“The fireworks are still on,” said Gaffino, crediting the festival’s volunteers. “If there’s a way to make it happen, we’ll go to work.”
Across town, one family was displaced when lightning struck the roof of a joined townhouse in the 0-99 block of Oak Creek Court.
“All of a sudden, we heard a big lightning crash — a boom,” said resident Chris Upshaw. He said it was not until a short time later that a passer-by saw his home on fire from Butterfield Road. The man, Ron Willams, was shopping with family when he saw the roof on fire, drove several blocks out of his way and knocked on the door to alert the family.
“That’s the only way we would’ve known,” said Upshaw. “They said the lightning shorted out the alarm system.”
Firefighters from as far at St. Charles and Elburn assisted North Aurora firefighters in extinguishing the flames in the attic of the vacant townhome next door to the Upshaws. The fire was contained within 30 minutes.
On firefighter was sent to the hospital with heat exhaustion but was expected to be treated and released.
A mile down the road, businesses near Kirk and Butterfield roads closed after the storm knocked out power. Employees at Walmart, Sonic, gas stations and smaller retailers stood out in the evening sunshine and cooler temperatures that followed the storm, waving customers away until the lights could come back on.
More than 18,000 customers were without power from Geneva to Yorkville as of 7 p.m., according to ComEd.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service was cautioning that Saturday’s storms could continue to wreak havoc. Drought-parched lands in some areas may prove incapable of soaking up the large volume of water that fell so quickly, creating the possibility of flash floods. Motorists were advised not to drive their vehicles into areas where the water covers the roadway.