Commentary: 15 Feet

Central staff member reflects on the moment the June 20 tornado struck her house

Fifteen feet, that’s all I can think of. That’s it: 15 feet between my neighbors’ destroyed and leveled home and mine. 

The night the tornado hit will forever be ingrained in my brain; it plays over and over on a weird loop of moments of sheer terror and disbelief. It only lasted 15 seconds but the damage it did will last forever. We had only just made it into the basement when a 2×4 crashed into our well window, shattering glass everywhere. I was knocked forward into some boxes as I yelled, “GET DOWN!” to my mom, daughter and son. It was then 15 seconds of sheer panic and fear as we listened to the roar of the wind and the debris hitting the house. It sounded like explosions, one after another, the house was rocking and shaking so bad, I truly thought we were going to lose it.

Pullquote Photo

Fifteen feet to the right and I would be dealing with so much more than I am now.

— Katie Long Piper, Naperville Central staff member and tornado victim

It left as quickly as it came: 15 seconds and so many lives were changed.  I immediately went upstairs to see if we still had a house.  That’s when I heard the hiss of a gas leak and the strong smell of gas.  The next few minutes are a blur of yelling to get out of the house and getting everyone into the van, which thank goodness was still useable. The pouring rain made it hard to see and there was debris everywhere.

After I backed my van out, that’s when I saw it…my neighbor’s house gone. I remember getting out of my van and running up their driveway screaming for them. I was overcome with so many emotions…I know I was just screaming and crying. I felt I was losing control and was going to explode; that’s when another neighbor yelled to me to get my family and get out…he was there.  I ran to my van to leave but there was nowhere to go. We were trapped by downed trees everywhere.  I went to the only place I could drive, which was just across Ranchview Drive to another neighbor, who had no damage.  For the next two hours they took care of four emotionally upset and shocked people as we took in what had just happened and waited to hear about my neighbors, who were found alive and are now healing. 

At 2:00 a.m. the fire department cleared a path for us to leave. I was headed to my sister’s just a few miles away.  It took us 30 minutes of detours and changed routes due to downed trees and power lines to make it there. Once there I settled my family, changed into dry clothes and headed back to my house with my sister. The rain had stopped and the moon was peeking out between the clouds now that the storm had moved on. You could see the damage a bit better.

Once we finally reached my house, I got out of the van and just stood there. I felt I was on a movie lot, the sheer amount of destruction in front of me, and I just started crying. Because that is when I realized it’s just 15 feet between my house and theirs. 

Images from the June 20 tornado that hit Naperville, including this one reprinted in the Dallas Morning News, typically show the damaged Piper home standing to the right of a fully destroyed house on Princeton Circle. (Photo provided by Katie Long Piper)


Before (above) and after photos of the Piper family’s backyard. (Photos provided by Katie Long Piper)















Note: Guest commentator Katie Long Piper is the staff sponsor of Hawk TV, Naperville Central’s broadcast program. She also works as a testing center center coordinator and as an assistant in Student Activities. Long Piper told the Central Times that she has been processing the shock of the July 20 tornado by writing about it, and CT offered to publish her thoughts.