UPDATE: Woodhaven Lakes Opens on Saturday

Photo via Jennifer Thompson with City of Rochelle
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SUBLETTE (WIFR) – Clean-up crews have been working around the clock since Monday’s tornado to get Woodhaven Lakes in Sublette to a point where property owners can get back in.

The roadblocks are still up outside of Woodhaven Lakes keeping residents and property owners out, but finally some good news, the gates will open at 8am Saturday.

For thousands it will be their first chance to see what damage Monday night's tornado did to their property.

Barbara Reuter has been inside the campground all along and has a warning for others.

"Bring your Kleenex because you'll need it because you just can't even imagine," she said.

Trees and debris are still scattered around the massive campground, but Woodhaven's leaders say enough has been cleared to let people back in.

"There are still many hazards and risks that remain when you enter the property extreme caution should be exercised in all areas when on the grounds," Karen Roche, Executive Director of the Woodhaven Association, said.

Not everyone will be able to stay. Sections 22, 23, 25, and part of 18 will only have limited access and those areas will be under curfew.

"We went over to 22 and 23 on Tuesday and it was just like oh my gosh. There was just nothing left. The trailers were nothing. All you could see was the bottom part of the trailer with all their stuff sitting there,” Reuter said.

This weekend is just a time to assess the damage. Administrators from Woodhaven Lakes say no work will be allowed done and no contractors will be allowed inside.

Volunteers who want to help with the cleanup process will not be allowed in this weekend.

SUBLETTE (WIFR) – Monday night’s tornado left substantial damage to the Woodhaven Lakes camping resort and with the possibility of more storms on the way, crews are working tirelessly to get the area cleaned up.

For the first time since the tornado, news cameras were allowed in. 23 News Reporter Mike Buda got the chance to see the wreckage firsthand and tells us how much longer it will be until people are allowed back.

Driving through Woodhaven Lakes, everything seems peaceful and calm, until you come up to the section torn apart by Monday’s tornado.
“Seeing the property, I can’t put words to it. It’s the worst,” says Woodhaven Lakes Executive Director Karen Roche.

Trees and debris have been removed from all the roads, but now begins the real clean-up, clearing areas around electrical boxes and propane tanks. It’s the last step before everyone can return to their properties.

“We’re trying to do that as quickly as possible because I know the residents want to get in as soon as they can and we’re hoping that will happen very soon. Not today, however,” says Sheriff Simonton.

For the last few days, people have not been able to go inside and people still inside could leave, but could not return. Lee County Sheriff John Simonton says depending on the weather, property owners could go back in within the next few days.

“Enough’s enough. We’ve all been saying that we’ve had enough rain, which probably added to the problems. We were saturated to begin with. Any winds or any additional rains is just going to complicate matter that much more, certainly for the workers and then for our property owners as well,” says Roche.

Since Monday, everyone has been found and accounted for and now Simonton just hopes that the clean-up effort can move forward without any more delays.
The American Red Cross is still set up at the Ellice Dinges Center in Sublette, offering food and water to those affected.

Farmers State Bank in Sublette is accepting financial donations and gift cards. Over 2,000 families in Lee County remain without power.

UPDATE: SUBLETTE (WIFR) – Another series of tornadoes hits the Stateline after a deadly night ten weeks ago.
Only a few hundred people live in Sublette, where families are cleaning up after a tornado with an EF-2 rating hit.
Sublette is home to Woodhaven Lakes, the world’s largest recreational camping resort. All 1,800 acres sustained significant damage. Campers are flipped onto their sides, trees ripped from the ground, and some trailers even ended up on top of one another. At least one house was pushed off its foundation.

The damage is so bad at Woodhaven Lakes that people are not allowed inside the grounds.

Woodhaven Lakes has more than 6,000 campsites. To put that into perspective, on a busy weekend, they could have up to 15,000 people staying here. During the tornado, 300 were camping out and not one critical injury has been reported. One person was taken to the hospital. Five survived 130 mile per hour winds trapped inside a set of trailer where they were rescued last night. A couple more were saved this morning. More than 100 search and rescue responders are combing the area, double-checking that no one is inside the trailers, saying so far they are “extremely lucky.”

The power is still out for the area as clean-up continues. The National Weather Service says an EF-2 tornado touched down, although they have not surveyed the most severe damage so that could change.

The American Red Cross has opened a shelter at the Ellice Dinges Center in the 200 block of South West Street, in Sublette. There will be food, coffee, and water for emergency responders and families. If you need assistance, please contact the American Red Cross Disaster Response Number at 877-597-0747 or go to the shelter located in Sublette. As damage assessments are completed in the coming days and weeks, an announcement will be made regarding volunteer needs. This announcement will be posted on the Woodhaven Lakes Facebook page and the Lee County Emergency Management Agency Facebook page.

Governor Bruce Rauner has declared the Woodhaven Lakes resort a disaster area earlier this morning. Illinois Task Force One has now been deployed into the area. It’s a trained search and rescue unit with search dogs and extra rescue equipment, however law enforcement says its best asset is its numbers.

“Well, it’s just additional manpower. These guys have been sweating all day and night and we have fresh legs and arms and they are 50 to 70 members strong so they are going to get into these devastated areas and work on them quite rapidly so I know residents are very frustrated right now and we want to get them in as quickly as possible,” said Lee County Sheriff John Simonton.
Simonton says no unauthorized personnel will be allowed into the campground until the task force is confident every camper has been located and accounted for.

Farmers State Bank in Sublette is accepting financial donations and gift cards. You may mail or drop off a monetary donation or gift card to Farmers State Bank, PO Box 20, 303 S. Pennsylvania, Sublette, Illinois 61367. Checks may be made out to United Way of Lee County – Emergency & Relief Fund of Lee County. United Way of Lee County will work with local nonprofit agencies and direct the contributions to the local agencies providing disaster relief. Donations may also be made online via paypal at www.unitedwayofleecounty.org. Please indicate it is for the Lee County Severe Weather Emergency and Relief Fund. All of the funds will stay local to meet the needs accessed.

While the tornado destroyed much of the Sublette area, in Sterling, one business was left in rubble after feeling the wrath of the storm.

The roof and side of Dunham’s Sporting Goods at Northland Mall were taken off by the high winds. Sterling Police say there were people inside the mall and the store at the time of the damage. The mall was left with some standing water and continued to be closed down throughout Tuesday as ComEd crews worked to restore power to the area. One officer says he is just thankful nobody was hurt.

Sterling businesses and resident are also being asked to conserve their water. Due to the rain, the city’s waste-water treatment plant has had an increase of flow from 2.5 million gallons per day to 19 million gallons.

UPDATE: SUBLETTE (WIFR) -- In an update at midnight by the Sublette Fire Department and Lee County Sheriff, we're told one person was taken to the hospital with minor injuries and four others were treated on-site for minor injuries.

Crews are working to clear debris from the area and surrounding roadways.

Another update is expected in the next few hours. We will have the very latest on 23 News this morning.

STATELINE (WIFR) – At least five people are trapped at the Woodhaven Lakes Campsite in Sublette where emergency crews from Rockford and the surrounding area have been called to the scene after a tornado.

We’re told the area, which is in southern Lee County, is home to more than 1,600 campsites. Firefighters are communicating with those buried beneath the debris. Injuries are unknown but appear to be minor. A media briefing is expected at midnight.

Damage from the same storm that hit Sublette has also been reported in Sterling, with the Northland Mall having major roof damage, particularly at Dunham's Sporting Goods. Our CBS Affiliate WHBF in the Quad Cities tells us that the store manager says when the warning came out, employees got everyone to a safe place and in his words, "followed procedure perfectly."

Officials with the Northland Mall say the mall will be closed until further notice due to tonight's storm. Sterling Police ask the public to stay clear of mall property due to safety concerns.

This story is developing and we will continue to update you as we learn more.

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