BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO) — Machesney Park resident Trista Strommen says she went to the Apollo Theater on Friday to celebrate her birthday. That’s when an EF-1 tornado ripped through Belvidere and tore through the roof of the building, causing it to collapse on concert attendees.
An EF-1 tornado is rated on the Enhanced Fujita scale to have had 3-second wind gusts between 86 and 110 miles per hour. The NWS estimated the tornado had winds of up to 100 miles an hour and traveled 27.7 miles.
She recalled her terror at the moment the tornado hit: “All you heard was the rumbling building. You felt that shaking and you could just see the lights flickering on and off. And the next thing you know, you can see the whole building, like the roof behind us, is just crumbling down on top of people. And you just hear everyone screaming for help.”
Strommen said one of the opening acts for the heavy metal band Morbid Angel, Crypta, had just finished a song when concertgoers were told there would be a 30-minute storm break.
She said she and her stepdad decided to buy a t-shirt, and that’s when tragedy struck.
“I had, like, flashbacks of everything in my life that I was just so grateful to be there for,” she said. “I just thought: that was it.”
“My stepdad yanked me and I barely got missed by the balcony, by a mere inch. Had he not pulled me when he did, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t even be here,” she continued.
Boone County Emergency Management Director Dan Zaccard said there was one fatality, a 50-year-old man who was caught beneath the collapse. The victim’s family identified him as Frederick Forest Livingston, Jr. according to ABC News.
In total, 28 people were taken to local hospitals by paramedics, and another 48 people who sought treatment on their own.
“We feel terrible for the people that were hurt,” Zaccard said at a press conference on Saturday. “We’re very thankful for the people who helped some of the concertgoers…and the first responders that made this better than it could have been.”
Strommen said she was lucky to leave only with a scratch on her back and a couple of bruises, and said at that moment, she thought she wouldn’t live to see her 22nd birthday.
She said although it may take her a while to heal, she will never forget that night.
“Hold your loved ones tight at night and in the mornings,” she advised. “Any chance you get, just make sure you tell them you love them and make sure you treat your family with love, because you really don’t know if you’re going to get to come home.”
Morbid Angel released a statement Saturday, saying: “We want to first and foremost send out deepest and heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the individual who tragically lost their life last night in the venue roof collapse due to heavy winds from a tornado. We lost a brother in Metal last night, and many were hurt and injured in this tragedy.
“We would like to express how truly thankful we are for those in attendance (Fans, Venue Staff, Bands and Crew) that assisted with getting people out and to safety. We want to thank the First responders (Fire, EMT, Police) that were on scene quickly and were able to help in getting people out of the venue and to hospitals for treatment as quickly as possible. YOU ARE TRUE HEROES!”