On Tuesday evening, April 19, 2004, a severe tornado struck the Central Illinois town of Utica, cutting a swath of destruction I estimate at no more 150 yards wide. Damage outside that path appears to have been caused mainly by flying debris.
I happened to go through Utica last year on a bike trail that was made from the towpath of the now-unused Illinois & Michigan Canal. The date was October 5, 2003. There was a rest stop in Utica, and as I was sipping the delicious hot potato soup I snapped a few pictures.
Returning to Utica on April 25, I tried to take photos from exactly the same spots I had done six months before. I've picked out four of them and spliced them together to show a little of the pattern of destruction. (These photos are reduced in size to make it easier to view them. If you'd like the full-resolution original images, just send me an email.)
Looking South from the parking lot of the rest area. The footbridge carries the trail over a section of that canal that is still full of water. Note the absence in the "after" photo of the large metal building and many of the trees behind it. The evergreen tree in the foreground, once upright, not tilts at about a 40-degree angle.
Looking West at the picnic shelter where the Starved Rock Cycling Association set up its rest area, taken from approximately the same spot as the other photo. I couldn't locate the metal roof, but it might be what damaged Duffy's Tavern. Note the marks on the asphalt, which might have been caused by the roof as it departed for parts unknown. The trees in the background are not yet fully leafed out, but appear to be undamaged. The beautiful old oak behind the "NO" sign probably won't have many leaves this year.
Looking West at Duffy's Tavern (Duffy ain't there) on the corner of Canal and Mill. Looks like a nice little neighborhood place, and its shape is a triangle. None of the people who sought refuge here were injured, but exactly one block away, eight people died when the Milestone tavern collapsed completely. The block with the Milestone was almost totally leveled.
Looking South at the LaSalle County Historical Museum, located in an original I&M canal warehouse. The warehouse was built in 1849, and by 1977 was handling, for example, 210,000 bushels of corn and 22,000 bushels of oats. The only damage I could see was a slightly bent weather vane. You can see Duffy's Tavern reflected in one of the glass doors of the museum in the "before" photo.
Here are two images taken Sunday that do not match to any taken in 2003.
Looking South across the canal. The twisted metal in the foreground was a grain bin identical to the ones on the other side of the canal. Only a circular concrete pad remains in its former location.
Looking East along Canal Street toward Mill. Duffy's Tavern can be seen here, and the side facing the bulk of the tornado appears largely undamaged. Speculation is that a large windborne object fell on the far side, causing the partial wall collapse seen in the other photo.