Metal, plastic and glass shards in the grass keep the tornado alive in the memories of its victims – Chicago Tribune

There was good news for Naperville tornado victims earlier this month when state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, was able to help secure $1 million for environmental cleanup work.

While most victims of the E-F3 tornado that struck the 75th Street/Ranchview Drive area June 20, 2021, are back in their rebuilt homes, that doesn’t mean those homes are totally usable. And with home insurance not paying for yard work, the memories of that horrible night stay with them every time they have to pickup up another shard of glass, metal or plastic that pops to the surface of their lawns and garden beds after being driven into the ground by the storm.

Shortly after the tornado hit, damaging 125 properties, neighbors Kristan Kennedy and Kelly Dougherty created a Facebook page to connect volunteers who wanted to help with those who needed it. They then created a fundraising site,, and partnered with the M.P Foundation, a Naperville nonprofit, to help them distribute the money.

Thanks to the donations and the state money, they’ll be able to help with eradicating those remnants — one of the long-term problems left behind by tornados.

“On average it will cost between $12,000 to $15,000 to replace topsoil with a few inches of fresh graded soil, dispose of the old stuff and plant grass seed (at each home),” Kennedy said.

“We are still fundraising towards our goal of $1.5 million. It will cost $1.1 million to fix 70 yards and we will spend the rest on landscaping. We want to do a wider area of 300 homes, which were all in the direct path of the tornado.”

It's hard to fathom the kind of destruction that can be caused by an E-F3 tornado, like the one that hit Naperville in 2021, unless you see the damage firsthand and you're left cleaning up the debris that keeps surfacing months and years later, Naperville homeowner Lisa Rue says.

Ajay Bawankule was on the phone wishing his father a happy birthday in India when the tornado struck. He and his family were displaced for 10 months while their home was rebuilt.

He remembers the night vividly.

“I knew many suburbs were being warned so I thought it wasn’t going to hit our house. Then I heard a loud frightening noise and realized it was here,” he said.

“Me and my wife Vandana rushed from the master bedroom as it hit our home. The window broke and the door blew shut, trapping her in the corner of the room. I kept pushing the door so she could get out, but the force was so strong I couldn’t open it. She wasn’t wearing socks or shoes and the glass was scattered everywhere so she got two cuts in her feet.”

The couple’s sons Adipya, 24, and Abhinav, 21, bandaged her feet, and she ended up going to Edward Hospital to receive stitches.

“The tornado came inside and broke four windows. It got in the attic and left a big triangular hole from the front to the back of the house,” Bawankule said. “Our furniture inside the house was visible from the outside.

“We had a 250-pound glass patio table, which had six heavy metal chairs stacked on top. The tornado lifted it up and we never saw the table again. We still have glass pieces and nails in the yard. No matter how hard you try, you cannot clean them away. We’re always trying to pick them up whenever we find them. There so much damage it’s impossible to clean this up.”

Leandro and Fernanda Saez’s 10-year-old son Thiago underwent months of therapy after experiencing the tornado, which struck while he was in his bedroom.

“The tornado hit his room on the second floor just as my wife got there. She didn’t have time to get to the basement,” Saez said.

“We lost the front of our house. His bedroom door hit my wife and knocked her backwards. She fell below the door, which actually protected them from flying glass and the roof. They sustained scratches and mild cuts. We lost almost the whole house. … (But) we don’t complain. We are more grateful than sad.”

Soccer plays a big part in Thiago’s life, especially since his family is from Brazil. He loves to play in the yard, but that’s no longer something he can do safely without shoes.

“When it rains, we see a lot of glass rising to the top surface. You can easily find pieces of glass,” Saez said. “My son loves to play soccer barefoot but I’m trying to control that. He has spent months in therapy, but now with the help of his friends at school and in the community, he is happy to be back.”

Lisa and Mike Rue and their sons Luke, 18, and Gus, 16, decided to live in their house while eight months of repair work was done. A lot of the damage was caused by the multiple mature trees that were uprooted.

“One tree came through our kitchen and the sliding glass patio door was shattered,” said Lisa, a claims manager for an insurance firm. “A loud noise had woken us up but we hadn’t realized what it was. It looked like an explosion inside the house. We had to rip out all the floors and have a whole new kitchen (built).”

Although the insurance company removed the trees, they won’t cover the cost of soil repair, she said.

“A lot of people in neighborhood had glass embedded (in their lawns),” she said. “We also had brick and rock from an outdoor fireplace as well as shards of glass in the yard. We paid ourselves to get yard done so it’s in a condition where we can use it. I’ve always been a barefoot person. I tried but ended up with glass in my feet.

“I think the biggest thing is when you have a home, it’s your respite. It’s expensive to repair and not everyone is able to afford it,” Rue said. “People think that Naperville has means, but not for something like this experience. It’s not about beautifying, it’s about making it safe.”

Hilary Decent is a freelance journalist who moved to Naperville from England in 2007.

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