Devastating storm blows assisted-living flier 130 miles to Palos Hills
It was the most interesting piece of garbage Chicago Ridge’s Danielle Zychowski picked up in her life.
Close to noon on Sunday, the Moraine Valley community service officer was helping to secure the Palos Heights campus for the impending storm. The winds were kicking up and some debris started falling and an advertisement for the Villas of Holly Brook assisted living facility in Downstate Washington, fluttered and fell to the ground right in Police Chief Patrick O’Connor’s parking space. It had some dirt on it and it was partially torn.
“I looked up in the sky and saw the debris falling,” said Zychowski, who graduated from Moraine with a criminal justice degree. “That one actually fell right at my feet. Out of curiosity I picked it up wondering where it came from. I thought maybe it was from Orland Park or Palos Hills or Palos Park. I picked it up and I saw it was from the town of Washington. I had never heard of the town of Washington.
“I Googled it and found out where Washington is. It travelled 130 miles. About 25 minutes later, that’s when the news went public that the tornado hit Washington.’’
The flier was sent to Steven Bucher of Kern Road in Washington and when Zychowski went home that night, she saw him on television.
“The crazy thing is that he was on NBC Nightly News,” she said. “He talked about how his house was completely destroyed. I was excited to know that he was OK. Of course, my heart goes out to everybody there, but I felt a connection to this person. Finding his mail made it personal.’’
Bucher described what happened.
“All of a sudden, the wind started picking up and [my wife] said ‘we’ve got to get in the basement right now!’ ’’ Bucher told NBC. “Within less than a minute, everything started collapsing inside the house, cracking, sputtering. Next thing we know, its light inside the garage.’’
Bucher’s junk mail flying from his house all the way to Moraine’s campus was “amazing,” O’Connor said.
“To elevate that upward and for it not to be damaged by water, it had had to be very high up,” O’Connor said. “The National Weather Service was shocked that it reached this far. They had reports of debris from Morris and Joliet. They never thought it would make it all the way to Palos Hills. It shows how strong this storm really was.”
Luckily for most of the Reporter’s six towns, there was only minor damage caused by the storm. The chief said there was no damage on campus.
O’Connor said he would photograph the advertisement and send it to the Washington post office, which is holding people’s mail that has flown all around the state.
“When [Bucher’s] life gets back to normal, he will get this back,” O’Connor said. “I think he’s going to be surprised that it travelled this far.’’
The incident happened four days after O’Connor received the National Weather Service StormReady Award at the school’s monthly board meeting.
StormReady was developed in 1999 in Tulsa, Okla., after a tornado struck a community that was unprepared and sustained great loss and damage.
NWS and NOAA Weather Radio partnered to create the grassroots program in cooperation with state and local emergency management agencies to help prepare communities, colleges and universities and counties for inclement weather.
“It took us about three years to get everything in place and we are very proud of being award the StormReady Award,” O’Connor said. “We had to setup an emergency operations center, establish multiple means of communication to students and staff, train our employees and meet [NWS official Jim Allsopp’s] strict policies and procedures.”
The NWS requires each of the StormReady communities to create redundant methods of receiving watches and warning from the NWS on campus, redundant methods of disseminating that information while sending it out to the community, severe weather procedures in place, storm shelters on campus, training of storm-spotters, and training for the staff and students.
“Chief O’Connor has done a great job meeting the requirements to be a StormReady college,” Allsopp said. “Statewide this is only the tenth college or university to achieve StormReady status and there are only about 140 nationwide.”
According the NWS, roughly 90 percent of all presidentially declared disasters are weather related, leading to around 500 deaths per year and nearly $14 billion in damage. The StormReady program provides individuals with the communication and safety skills needed to help protect communities from severe weather.
“This program is great for the college community since we have protocols in place where we are able to reach out to all three campuses and prepare students, faculty, staff and visitors for severe weather,” O’Connor said. “This award ensures the safety and performance of not only our department but the college community as a whole.”