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Storms Flood Streets, Send Bricks Showering From Evanston Church

Church Roof

Storms ripped down part of the roof Thursday night at St. James Armenian Church in Evanston. (Credit: Susanna Song/CBS)

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UPDATED 05/04/12 11:25 a.m.

EVANSTON, Ill. (CBS) — A round of heavy spring storms caused serious damage in some areas overnight, including the collapse of a façade at a church in downtown Evanston that left a person injured.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, the top portion of the façade collapsed St. James Armenian Church, at 813 Clark St. in Evanston just southwest of the Northwestern University quads. Hundreds of bricks came showering down onto the lawn and sidewalk.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

Fire crews responded to the church around 8:20 p.m. Since then, city officials have ruled out lightning as a cause.

City officials also say the entire façade must now be demolished, because it is so unstable.

As of mid-morning, bricks still littered the sidewalk in front of the church.

“I expected to see a few bricks, maybe, and fallen, but this is too much; I mean, this is unbelievable,” said parishioner Alice Gregorian.

She was one of many lifelong parishioners who flocked to the church as soon as they heard about the damage.

“It’s a mess, but nobody is around,” said parishioner Zarouhi Kedjidjian. “I can’t do anything, you know, by myself.”

Evanston Fire Department Division Chief Tom Janetske said the first 911 callers told dispatchers that the building itself had collapsed. Emergency workers arrived to find that only the bricks and masonry from the top third of the façade crashed to the sidewalk, also covering several parking spaces in front of the church.

Firefighters immediately cordoned off the area with yellow warning tape.

Janetske said one person was nicked by the falling debris as she scurried to seek cover from the high winds and heavy rain. Paramedics transported her to St. Francis Hospital for observation, but Janetske said the injuries appeared to be minor.

“We just don’t know to what extent the façade is failing, so that’s what we’re trying to determine,” said Evanston code and building official Jeff Murphy. “It’s obviously failed up by the gable. Our engineers need to get up and actually physically get close to where the roof failed.”

Murphy says he is unsure how the storm weakened the structure.

“I think they’ve ruled out lightning. I don’t want to speculate,” Murphy said.

A neighbor, Graham Murphy, said he came out right after he heard the collapse.

“I heard a bang, but there was so much hail banging against the window, you couldn’t even hear the TV in the apartment, so it was pretty loud and pretty bad,” Murphy said. “I didn’t know what happened; I mean, I wasn’t sure if the road had blown up or some gas line had exploded.”

The storms also caused severe problems elsewhere in the Chicago area. The near northern suburbs were hit particularly hard.

In Morton Grove, wind snapped a tree and knocked it onto a roof. No one was injured – a fact for which the homeowner, Felix Priola, is greatly relieved.

“Suddenly, the rains came, and hail, and then we heard this crack, crack, crack, crack,” Priola said. At the time, he and 10 others were outside in the backyard celebrating a birthday.

“I looked out, and I saw this big tree in my house,” he said.

He said it was a close call.

“Had it happened back here, we’d have all got killed,” Priola said as he stood under the patio cover in his backyard. “It would have landed on top of the patio cover and crushed us all.”

Priola is quite glad that he survived the party, which was for his 83rd birthday.

“What a birthday party we had!” he said with a laugh.

Meanwhile on Pratt Avenue in Lincolnwood, streets were filled with water, and air was visible bubbling up from the sewers as cars made their way through.

Streets were also left flooded in Niles.

“It’s a lot of water,” said Niles resident Mike Galante. He came outside wearing waders, and ended up in knee deep water in the middle of his residential block.

“Typically here, this is what happens when there’s heavy, heavy storms, fast, in this area, the street floods, and my mother-in-law’s car; her house across the street, and she will get water inside the house if we don’t get the sewers clear,” Galante said.

To prevent that from happening, Galante and another neighbor spent some time unclogging the sewers.

Galante says flooding on Niles streets has been an ongoing problem for four decades, and the only way to prevent a flooded basement is to unclog the sewers manually.

In the Jefferson Park neighborhood on the city’s Northwest Side, CBS 2 viewer Doug McCormick discovered hailstones the side of quarters filling the bed of his truck.

The storms also prompted airlines to cancel numerous flights at O’Hare International Airport Thursday night.

Some travelers said agents told them flights were canceled because planes needed to be inspected for hail damage.

Twelve American Airlines plans are being examined for hail damage in the hangar at O’Hare, airline officials said.