By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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BELVIDERE — Structural engineers surveyed the damage to the century-old Apollo Theatre on Saturday as work continued to cleanup the wreckage caused by a powerful storm that swept through the region the night before.
The cleanup continues as dozens of people recover from injuries sustained Friday when the roof to the theater at 104 N. State St. collapsed, trapping some people under the debris.
Belvidere Fire Chief Shawn Schadle said Saturday afternoon that there were five people still in critical condition, including two with life-threatening injuries. A 51-year-old man, Fred Livingston Jr., was killed in the collapse the night before and a total of 48 were treated at local hospitals, he said.
On Saturday, crews hauled away debris as engineers determined if the structural integrity of the brick theater was intact.
“The building will hopefully get remodeled. It will get redone,” Schadle said. “Some of the injuries are life-changing, and that’s the hardest thing about it.”
Crews used drone footage to survey the interior and exterior of the building, and structural engineers used a lift to inspect the damage from above. There weren’t any concerns that the area needed to be cleared because of the potential for further collapse. Schadle said they hoped to reopen the road soon.
The chief said structural engineers work was preliminary, but there was optimism that the building could be repaired. It’s still unclear the total cost of the damage or the feasibility of repair.
“We’re all rooting for the Apollo,” he said. “It’s a historical building. It’s been here a long time. We’re optimistic and hopeful that someday there will be concerts in here again.”
The Apollo opened in January 1922 and is now owned by Maria Martinez and her family. It has a capacity for nearly 1,000 people and had about 260 there Friday night, according to fire officials.
“The owner cares about the people. She’s deeply upset about the entire situation,” said Schadle, who stood side-by-side with Martinez several times outside the theater Saturday morning. “She feels horrible about everybody that was injured. She cares about the community and cares about the structure.”
The area was under a tornado watch Friday, and then the upgraded tornado warning was issued about 20 minutes before the damage to downtown Belvidere occurred, according to the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service says a trained spotter identified a tornado near Caledonia in Boone County. It also said an EF-1 tornado was confirmed in Belvidere.
Schadle said the building has withstood strong storms before, and the damage caused Friday was unpredictable.
“Was this situation likely based on the information prior to it happening? Absolutely not,” he said. “It’s been here a hundred years and it has not happened. Unfortunately, last night it happened.”
“Just past behind the building there’s entire rows of huge trees that are knocked down. Buildings can’t withstand those type events all the time, and it had many times.”
Jose Castano, an employee at Lung Fung, which is next door to The Apollo, said he and his coworkers were inside taking orders when heavy winds started blowing. They initially had the kitchen door open to cool off when the wind started to pick up.
“Once the wind started blowing, we tried to close it. It took us three people to close the door,” Castano said.
That’s when he said they started to hear the commotion of the damage next door, and people started scrambling to respond to the chaotic scene.
“I was scared myself,” he said. “It was horrible. It’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Lung Fung also sustained damage to its roof and facade, although not to the extent of the neighboring theater.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency is surveying the region to determine the extent of the damage and quantify the cost. The agency said there were also three fatalities in Crawford County from a residential structure collapse.
Schadle gave credit to people at the concert for their quick response, working side-by-side with first responders to help the injured. Videos posted on social media show people working together to hoist debris up and help the injured.
“One-hundred percent the bystanders made a difference,” he said. “The community response was amazing. … There were definitely many lives saved yesterday by quick trauma care, quick transport, good triage.”