Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the Midwest on Sunday, unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipping over cars, uprooting trees and leaving at least five people dead.
Illinois took the brunt of the fury as the string of unusually powerful late-season tornadoes tore across the state, injuring dozens and even prompting officials at Chicago's Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears game.
"The whole neighborhood's gone. The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house," said Michael Perdun, speaking by cellphone from the hard-hit town of Washington, where he said his neighborhood was wiped out in a matter of seconds.
"I stepped outside and I heard it coming. My daughter was already in the basement, so I ran downstairs and grabbed her, crouched in the laundry room and all of a sudden I could see daylight up the stairway and my house was gone."
An elderly man and his sister were killed when a tornado hit their home around noon in the rural community of New Minden, said coroner Mark Styninger. The National Weather Service in St. Louis determined that the New Minden tornado rated an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, meaning it had winds of at least 166 mph.
A third person died in Washington, while three others perished in Massac County in the far southern part of the state, said Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. She did not provide details..
"This is likely to be an EF-3 or higher tornado (in Washington, Ill.)," said Dr. Greg Forbes, severe weather expert at The Weather Channel.
Southwest of Chicago, the town of Coal City was hit by a confirmed EF-2 tornado, determined after an initial NWS survey of the area.
With communications difficult and many roads impassable, it remained unclear how many people were killed or hurt. The Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with immediate search and recovery operations.
In Washington, a rural community of 16,000, whole blocks of houses were erased from the landscape, and Illinois State Police Trooper Dustin Pierce said the tornado cut a path from one end of town to the other, knocking down power lines, rupturing gas lines and ripping off roofs.
An auto parts store with several people inside was reduced to a pile of bricks, metal and rebar; a battered car, its windshield impaled by a piece of lumber, was flung alongside it. Despite the devastation, all the employees managed to crawl out of the rubble unhurt, Pierce said.
"I went over there immediately after the tornado, walking through the neighborhoods, and I couldn't even tell what street I was on," Washington Alderman Tyler Gee told WLS-TV.
"Just completely flattened - some of the neighborhoods here in town, hundreds of homes."
Among those who lost his home was Curt Zehr, who said he was amazed at the speed with which the tornado turned his farmhouse outside Washington into a mass of rubble scattered over hundreds of yards. His truck was sent flying and landed on a tree that had toppled over.
"They heard the siren... and saw (the tornado) right there and got into the basement," he said of his wife and adult son who were home at the time. Then, seconds later, when they looked out from their hiding place the house was gone and "the sun was out and right on top of them."
At OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, spokeswoman Amy Paul said 37 patients had been treated, eight with injuries ranging from broken bones to head injuries that were serious enough to be admitted. Another hospital, Methodist Medical Center in Peoria, treated more than a dozen, but officials there said none of them were seriously injured.
Steve Brewer, Methodist Medical Center's chief operating officer, said that doctors and other medical professionals were setting up a temporary emergency care center to treat the injured before transporting them to hospitals, while others were dispatched to search through the rubble for survivors.
By nightfall, Trooper Pierce said there were reports of looting in Washington.
About 90 minutes after the tornado destroyed homes in Washington, the storm darkened downtown Chicago. As the rain and high winds slammed into the area, officials at Soldier Field evacuated the stands and ordered the Bears and Baltimore Ravens off the field. Fans were allowed back to their seats shortly after 2 p.m., and the game resumed after about a two-hour delay.
- Tornadoes were spotted in at least eight Kentucky counties.
- A home in Rochester in Butler County had its roof blown off and there were reports of damages to homes and other structures in the various counties, but no reports of injuries.
- At least 50 homes were destroyed by a possible tornado in Brookport, according to reports. Search and rescue operations occurred in that town on Sunday afternoon and evening. WPSD reported that there was “massive devastation” in Brookport, with gas leaks and downed power lines. Mayor Dave Mingus tells NBC News that approximately 100 houses are damaged and that 25 to 50 of those are uninhabitable.
- More than 80,000 customers were without power on Sunday, most of them in Peoria.
- Severe damage was reported in Pontiac and northeast of Champagne.
- At least one tornado hit portions of Washington and another touched down in Pekin, authorities confirmed. The Peoria Journal Start reported that Georgetown Commons apartment complex in Washington was severely damaged and other areas were hit hard. Authorities were doing a house-to-house search.
- Kokomo police asked residents to stay home and off the streets after city officials declared a state of emergency in the wake of severe storms.
- The town of Kokomo has declared a state of emergency through Monday morning. Schools will not be open on Monday.
- Gov. Mike Pence says the cities of Washington in southwestern Indiana and Lebanon in central Indiana have sustained significant damage and that 12 counties either reported tornado touchdowns or storm damage.
- Indiana State Police Sgt. Kim Riley says a teacher has been injured after the storm heavily damaged a school south of Lafayette.
- The NWS says a trained spotter reported a tornado along Interstate 74 near State Route 63 in northern Vermillion County on Sunday afternoon. It also reported power lines down in adjacent Fountain County.
- Vermillion County Sheriff's Department Director of Communication Derrek Williams reported widespread damage in the northern part of the county, about 60 miles northwest of Indianapolis.
- 253,000 Without Power in Michigan
- High winds and rain slammed into the western part of the state.
- Consumers Energy reported thousands of power outages, especially east of U.S. 131 between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.
- No immediate reports of injuries.
- Churches in western Michigan canceled evening worship services.
- Ameren Missouri reported more than 37,000 outages Sunday afternoon, mostly in the St. Louis area.
- The National Weather Service reported roof and shingle damage across parts of St. Louis and St. Louis County, as well as damaged and uprooted trees.
- In St. Charles County, roof damage was reported at a Wentzville school
- More than 38,000 customers are without power across northwest Ohio due to the storm.
- Strong winds damaged some buildings and downed numerous trees in Dodge County. There were no reports of injuries.
- In the town of Hustisford, cattle sheds, garages and storage sheds were damaged, said Dodge County Emergency Management Director Joseph Meagher said.