BELVIDERE, Ill. (WTVO) — Trista Strommen went to the Apollo Theater in Belvidere on Friday to celebrate her birthday. It was soon marred by an EF-1 tornado that ripped through the Illinois city, destroying the roof of the building and causing it to collapse on concert attendees, killing one and injuring 28 others.
Crypta, one of the opening acts for the heavy metal band Morbid Angel had just finished a song when concertgoers were told there would be a 30-minute storm break.
Strommen and her stepdad decided to buy a T-shirt while they waited. That’s when tragedy struck.
“All you heard was the rumbling building. You felt that shaking and you could just see the lights flickering on and off,” Strommen recounted the terror as the tornado hit. “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’s stepdad quickly pulled her out of the way of a crumbling balcony, missing it “by a mere inch.”
“Had he not pulled me when he did, I’m afraid that I wouldn’t even be here,” she continued.
Strommen said she left with a scratch on her back and a couple of bruises. Others weren’t as lucky.
A 50-year-old man was pulled from the rubble but later died, authorities confirmed. Family identified the man as Frederick Forest Livingston Jr.
In total, 28 people were taken to local hospitals by paramedics, and another 48 people sought treatment on their own.
“We feel terrible for the people that were hurt,” Boone County Emergency Management Director Dan 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 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!”
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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.
The tornado that hit Belvidere was one of many that wreaked havoc through the South and Midwest on Friday. At least 32 people were killed in storms that caused confirmed or suspected tornadoes in 11 states, including at least 15 people in Tennessee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.