They were stuck, but at least they were safe. The restaurant was “pretty much leveled,” Randy Travis, assistant chief of Oregon Fire Protection District, told the Chicago Tribune.
“This was a restaurant,” Rick Mott, a local assistant fire chief, told WIFR after Grubsteakers was destroyed. “Had 12 people in it at the time, including employees. All 12 people made it to the basement of the restaurant before the tornado hit. Problem we found when we got here, all 12 were trapped in the basement by debris.”
Among the survivors was 81-year-old Raymond Kramer, who told ABC affiliate WLS that his wife thought they should get off the road when hail started to come down on Thursday. That, Kramer said, is how they ended up in the restaurant.
“I stood at the door taking pictures of the tornado coming at me from the southwest. Finally, the manager of the store, the owner of restaurant said, ‘Everybody in basement, right now!'” Kramer said. “And I stopped taking pictures and we went into the storm cellar, an old-fashioned storm cellar. And we got down there and no sooner did we get down there when it hit the building and laid a whole metal wall on top of the doors.”
The tornado was part of a severe storm system that left one person dead and several others injured Thursday. The storm hit the towns of Kirkland, Fairdale and Rochelle particularly hard, and the cleanup continued on Friday.
On Thursday, after discovering that people were trapped inside the restaurant, officials called for more help, then cut away the debris to locate a storm entrance and pull the survivors to safety, according to Mott, the assistant fire chief. “We cut a hole just big enough to start getting people out,” he told WIFR.
Local resident Eric Widick drove to Grubsteakers — “kind of one of your little greasy spoon restaurants,” he said — to help with the rescue effort.
“We’re a community,” he told CNN. “If one person is in need, we’ll all be there for them.”
Some of those pulled to safety were transported to local hospitals but appeared to only suffer minor injuries, Mott said.
The assistant fire chief noted that he’d been a member of the department for more than 30 years — and that “never had anything come through like this.”
Kramer, the elderly survivor, called it “an experience for an 81-year-old man that I’ll never forget.”
Here are a few more pictures from the scene, as well as video of the rescue from WIFR: