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Updated 10/20/11 – 8:04 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Longtime boaters in Chicago said they’ve never seen anything like it.
Strong winds and high waves sank at least seven boats and damaged more than two dozen more after they were tossed from their moorings in Monroe Harbor overnight.
The winds and waves smashed the boats into the concrete harbor walls next to the Shedd Aquarium, breaking the vessels apart.
Winds had reached more than 50 mph along parts of the lakefront on Wednesday and waves had reached as high as 25 feet at times.
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The giant waves slamming to shore up and down the lakefront were calmer on Thursday, but not before breaking more than a few hearts.
A couch floating in the water, a tri-hull boat upside down and a houseboat looking more like a floating dock were all part of what was essentially a boat graveyard at the southern end of Monroe Harbor on Thursday.
Chicago Police Sgt. Ray Mazzola, with the department’s Marine Unit, said, “We took about nine out of here this morning and the rest are sunk on the bottom.”
Mazzola has been with the marine unit for 33 years and he said Wednesday night’s storm was possibly the worst he’s ever experienced on the lakefront.
Gusts of up to 60 mph buffeted the lakeshore with waves of up to 25 feet.
Boater Greg Cotton said the conditions were every bit as scary as any he’s seen while growing up in coastal Australia. He said the waves on Wednesday were just as destructive as ocean waves can be.
“The waves are pretty strong. Walking along here is pretty frightening,” Cotton said.
Michael Argyela, owner of Go Sailing Chicago came out to the harbor Wednesday night, thinking he might be able to get his boat out of the water in time.
“With winds over 50 miles an hour – 50 knots – it was going to be unsafe to even try to get on the boat. So there was really nothing to do,” Argyela said.
Then the storm took over. Kirk Kessler was there.
“We all just kind of watched and saw, kind of, the force of nature do its thing,” Kessler said.
When the winds stopped, Argyela’s boat was gone. On Thursday morning, officials confirmed his worst fear. His boat was one of those with only its mast sticking up out of the water.
“I have insurance, so I’m okay. It’s disturbing, but, you know, at the end of the day, nobody got hurt. So that’s what matters,” Argyela said.
Though calmer, the water still proved hazardous on Thursday. Bill Luksha was there when a man who came to check on his boat fell into the 51 degree water and couldn’t get out.
Luksha said he was very worried about the man who fell in, because “obviously he had a few minutes to live and someone to rescue him quickly.”
A boat happened to be in the area and they were able to pull the man to safety.
“Even though he was a big, bulky guy, that water seeps in and he had no life jacket on either. So, he would have drowned pretty quickly,” Luksha said.
The victim, a man in his 60s, wasn’t seriously hurt.
Cleanup of the sunken boats will start on Friday when salvage crews will begin the tough and time-consuming job of getting the seven sunken boats out of the water, along with a lot of debris.
Another 27 boats were damaged after coming loose and have been moved to the north end of the harbor.
It wasn’t just boaters who took a loss in the storm. Some drivers also woke up Thursday to find their cars crushed by fallen trees.
At the intersection of Diversey Parkway and Cannon Drive, three cars were crushed when a tree toppled in the wind.
Cannon and Diversey is a popular spot for local residents to park, but those who parked too close to a big tree were unlucky Wednesday night.
“It was not a pretty sight. … It’s pretty bad,” Mike Burke said about the damage to the back of his Buick after part of the tree landed on its trunk.
The damage was so bad that Burke had to get the car towed Thursday morning.
He had parked at Cannon and Diversey Wednesday night to visit a friend who lives in a nearby high rise.
“You could hear the wind rattling the windows,” Burke said.
Asked if he had any idea a tree might land on his car, Burke said, “The thought occurred to me, but, you know, I got to my friend’s place and bought it up and he said ‘Ah, it probably won’t fall.’ I thought he was right.”
It turned out Burke’s car was one of three damaged when a tree fell on them. The other two cars had much worse damage, with crushed roofs and smashed windows.
“Thank God nobody was in the car. Thank God nobody was hurt,” said North Side resident Charles Potner.
There were no reports of injuries after Wednesday night’s high winds, just sporadic damage.
A motorcycle was knocked down in the 3100 block of North Cannon Drive and, in the 800 block of West George Street, another tree totaled a parked car.
“It just snapped right off,” Julie Leonard said.
Fortunately, it was not Leonard’s car, but she heard the bad news Wednesday night.
“It sounded like a giant tree cracking and then a crash,” she said. “You could tell it was a tree landing on a car. It definitely sounded just like that.”
Leonard’s car had been parked behind the one that was totaled, but her own car was spared.
“I think it’s a mess and I’m glad it’s not my car,” she said.
The owner apparently lives a couple blocks away.