Coal City: One Year Later | WBEZ
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Coal City: One Year Later

A tornado with winds of 160 mph tore through Coal City one year ago today.

Reno Vignocchi, a resident of the community Southwest of Chicago, remembers that night. It was around 10 p.m. on June 22. He was about to go to bed.

“People started texting me, Facebooking me,” Vignocchi said. 

That’s when he took his daughter and their pets to a crawl space. Vignocchi shut the door and held it. It took just a moment to lose the place he had called home for two decades.

“About 15 seconds,” Vignocchi said. “And it was major devastation at that point.”

The back of Reno Vognocchi’s house after the tornado in 2015. The foundation of the house was strong enough for Vognocchi to rebuild from the bricks and the studs. (Courtesy of Reno Vignocchi)

Days later, as people picked up the pieces, they also tried to pick up each other’s spirits. Throughout the town, words of hope and humor were spray-painted on buildings destined to be demolished. On one building someone wrote in huge letters, “It’s only stuff, we’re fine.” Another house had lyrics of a Rick Astley song: “Never Gonna Give You Up, Never Gonna Let You Down.”

On Vignocchi’s boarded up garage, he spray-painted a playful plea for The Stanley Cup to visit Coal City after the Blackhawks won the NHL championship.

Reno Vognocchi’s house after the tornado in 2015. His request: for the Stanley Cup to come to Coal City. (Yolanda Perdomo/WBEZ)

Despite damage to his home that required a complete rebuild, Vignocchi thought it could’ve been worse. 

“I was pretty much like ‘I’m alive, I’m talking’, said Vignocchi. “We just gotta rebuild, start over, you know?” 

John and Suzanne Lissy’s home right after the tornado in 2015. Their daughter spraypainted the phrase COAL CITY STRONG on their soon to be demolished home. (Yolanda Perdomo/WBEZ)

One popular phrase written on many homes was CC STRONG, for ‘Coal City Strong.’ That was spray-painted on John and Suzanne Lissy’s siding just before their two story house was demolished. 

The village administrator for Coal City says out of 2,400 homes, close to 900 were damaged by the tornado, including the Suzanne Lissys called home for more than 50 years. 

“There’s no way to explain it,” John Lissy said. “You just pick up the pieces and march on.

John and Suzanna Lissy will celebrate their 60th anniversary later this summer. They’ve spent 54 of those years at their home in Coal City. (Yolanda Perdomo/WBEZ)

Over the weekend, at the annual “Cruise Night” event, people walked around admiring loud engines and sleek paint jobs on muscle cars lined up on Broadway Road, Coal City’s main drag. Standing next to his vintage tractor, Don Phillips wore a t-shirt that said 2015 COAL CITY STRONG.

“I will never forget June 22, 2015 for as long as I live. It’s one of those ‘Do you know where you were when? [moments],” Phillips said. “People always talk about it and I think they always will. And they need to.”

Tonight, the village of Coal City will unveil a bronze plaque commemorating the 2015 tornado. It sits on a stump of one of the thousands of trees destroyed by the tornado.

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