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‘It was just unbelievable’: Residents, leaders, reporters recall super derecho

(WSIL) — Ten years ago Wednesday, the region was hit with waves of powerful storms that left behind some of the worst widespread damage our area had ever seen. 

A derecho, with wind gusts over 100 mph, caused major power outages that lasted, in some areas, for more than a week. 

(MORE: ‘Seared into my memory’: SIU official reflects on May 8th)

Andy Waterman says May 8th, 2009 is a day he will never forget. While reporting for WSIL, he found himself trapped in between downed trees while driving down the highway. 

"I was on Highway 149 headed west towards Zeigler and that’s when it hit, and it was incredibly scary, easily one of the scariest days of my life," said Waterman. 

Waterman attempted to get video of the downed trees but decided soon after he got out of the car, it was time to take cover.

"Pulled into a driveway, I left the gear in the car, I just ran inside. I didn’t even knock or ring a doorbell, I just ran inside," remembers Waterman. 

Minutes before, a couple had done the same thing. He parked behind them, and while they all sat inside taking cover, they heard the winds grow stronger. 

"All of a sudden, we hear a loud creek and a giant crash, and this lady’s tree in her front yard toppled, and it completely totaled the car in front of me," said Waterman. 

(MORE: 10 Years Later: Remembering May 8th)

Doug Kimmel also remembers getting to safety. He and several employees at the Veterans Airport of Southern Illinois were huddled in a bathroom inside the old terminal.  
"We knew the storm was severe, but we didn’t know how severe until the roof of the hangar was ripped off," said Kimmel. 

Kimmel showed News 3 pictures taken from the air traffic control tower as the strong winds wreaked havoc on the airport. 

"Throughout the cleanup process, there were pieces of the hangar roof found down by the hospital, which is a mile away from here," said Kimmel. 

Just a county over, former Murphysboro Mayor Ron Williams was out in the storm. His hands were full dealing with downed power lines and traffic concerns. 

"I was out of my truck, and I was trying to get back to it. I couldn’t, it blew me down the hill. I had to crawl back up on hands and knees," said Williams. 

Williams said while the derecho moved through quickly, his memories of the May 8th storm revolve around the weeks of cleanup that followed. 

"My God, there were trees down everywhere. Everything was blocked. It was just unbelievable," said Williams. 

(MORE: Remembering the Derecho: Insurance agent looks back)

Power lines were ripped down and more than 1,500 power poles were damaged, leaving nearly 75,000 people in the dark. Ameren workers Jason Klein and Kelly Bauza say they remember working long hours for more than a week following the storm. 

"The first 48 hours we worked around the clock, and then we started taking six hour breaks, so it was usually 18 hours on and 6 hours off," said Bauza. 

But during those long hours, they saw the best of Southern Illinois. 

"Barbequing, providing us water, providing us cookies, cake, whatever it might be. Obviously, they were very happy to see us show up, knowing eventually there lights would come back on, but they were very supportive of us during that time," said Klein. 

(MORE: Jacob teacher looks back on May 8th damage)

A time that Ron Williams says brought out the best in the community. 

 "I’ve always loved this community. I’ve always known it was a good group of people working together, but it brought out the best of everybody," said Williams. 

One person died from injuries they sustained while attempting to seek cover from the storm.

Six southern Illinois counties were declared state disaster areas, and it was estimated there was millions of dollars in damage. 

News 3

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