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A year after rebuilding from a fire, Country Classic Cars hit by tornado

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The change in air pressure from the tornado sucked in the garage doors in this building at Country Classic Cars. Photos by Anita Noel.

Just 15 months after a five-alarm fire swept through Hemmings Pro advertiser Country Classic Cars, misfortune has struck the Staunton, Illinois, dealership a second time. On Saturday, December 1, the facility — located just off Route 66 — was struck by a rare December tornado that appears to have destroyed two buildings and damaged two more, along with a yet-unknown number of cars.

The storms — which reportedly spawned a total of at least 18 tornadoes in three states — blew through Staunton at roughly 4:30 p.m. Saturday, about an hour and a half after Country Classic Cars closed for the day. One security guard was on-site as the tornado struck, but no injuries were reported there, a point not lost on co-owner Anita Noel. When asked by the St. Louis Post Dispatch about her first thought after hearing the news, she replied with an upbeat, “Nobody got hurt. That was really our first thought.”

Anita later told Hemmings that they were unable to reach the security guard for nearly 45 minutes after the storms hit, causing her to fear the worst. As she and Russ approached the property, however, the security guard was able to reach them via cell phone. “Had this been a weekday, we would have had a full staff on-site, and who knows what might have happened.”

Russ Noel surveys storm damage on Sunday, December 2.

One of the buildings damaged by Saturday’s twister was an addition to an existing structure, completed just a few weeks back. Though the damage to the cars is still being catalogued, pictures from the St. Louis Dispatch showed a 1963 Ford Falcon Futura convertible upended by the winds, left leaning on its right side. A 1993 Mercury Capri convertible had a hole punched through the quarter panel and closer to the door, a splintered 2×4 is still embedded in the sheetmetal. While the majority of cars for sale are owned by Country Classic Cars, a few were on consignment from sellers.

As was the case following the 2017 fire, Russ Noel promises to begin rebuilding as soon as possible. “We can repair the cars, repair the buildings,” he told local CBS affiliate KMOV, “We’ll just work right through it. We did it before, we’ll do it again.” True to form, Country Classic Cars was open for business on Monday morning, even before the debris was hauled away.

No fatalities were reported in Illinois as a result of last weekend’s storms, but a direct hit in Taylorville, Illinois, resulted in at least 20 reported injuries. Tornadoes also touched down in Oklahoma and Missouri, where one storm-related fatality was confirmed on Saturday morning.