Wilmington, IL – Dwight, IL 22.3 miles

Last night a tornado touched down not a mile from where I was spending the night in Dwight, IL.

Though I knew thunderstorms were predicted, which prompted me to decide to stay in a motel rather than pitch my tent, I was shocked when I checked the weather report and saw a tornado warning was in effect. The lights had already flickered and then gone out, so I decided it was perhaps time to pack up my backpack and consider seeking out a safe location.

From my motel room window I watched as the flashes of lightning illuminated the sky enough to see a large dark cloud moving quickly. It wasn’t a twister, but it was perhaps the meanest cloud I’ve ever seen. In the background I could hear the wail of the tornado sirens–a twister had touched down.

In the midst of the chaos, with the storm blowing furiously and rain pounding down, someone a couple doors down from me had a pizza delivered. I wondered by what magic they had managed to get a pizza delivered when the storm was fierce, tornadoes had been sighted, and power was down.

Eventually I decided to head downstairs to take a closer look at the storm. Most of the guests of the motel were clustered in the tiny lobby. Each person shared what little information they had–news from the man who delivered the pizza was that a trailer park in town had been obliterated. When the rain died down I stood with a couple dozen others at the front of the motel, clustered under the portico to the building, listening to the news on a car radio. The reports were that twisters had touched down in Dwight as well as in Streator, about 20 miles away. We were dealing with two separate tornadoes, possibly three.

It wasn’t until 11 p.m. that I decided it was safe enough to head back to my room. The storm was moving south and I needed to get some sleep.

The next morning I was surprised to find we were still without power. Beyond merely an inconvenience, I wondered how I was going to have the stamina to walk 20 miles to Pontiac, IL on an empty stomach–the power had gone out last night before I had a chance to get dinner. Fortunately Pete’s Restaurant was able to open its doors–thanks to gas grills and a generator. And oddly, while I ate in the dimly-lit restaurant, I realized I didn’t miss the lights or electricity.

Walking along Route 66 I passed some of the worst damage in Dwight. The tornado had wrecked havoc in a lumberyard in town, and destroyed the adjacent trailer park. Why, I wondered, do tornadoes always seem to hit areas least able to cope with such a force of nature. It seems particularly cruel to hit those least able to bounce back from a catastrophic event. As I walked out of town I was saddened by the very real possibility that some in Dwight could become homeless, or slip further into poverty, as a result of the storm.

–By Jennifer E. Cooper