Six people are dead, and dozens more are injured as residents begin cleaning up from a powerful line of storms that raked across Illinois Sunday.
National Weather Service teams from Paducah, St. Louis, Lincoln, and Chicago fanned out across the state Monday morning, collecting evidence and analyzing damage to gauge just how strong the tornadoes and severe thunderstorms were. Preliminary reports from at least two storms show the tornadoes were an EF-4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, meaning winds were between 166-200 miles per hour.
Three people died in Brookport, a far-southern Illinois city just across the Ohio River from Paducah, Kentucky. Two more - an 80-year old man and his 78-year old sister - were killed in New Minden, about 45 miles southeast of St. Louis. A sixth storm victim died in Washington, just outside of Peoria.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn declared disaster areas in seven counties, in an effort to speed recovery efforts through state resources. Those include Champaign, Grundy, LaSalle, Massac, Tazewell, Washington and Woodford counties. Quinn is expected to visit tornado-ravaged areas on Monday to view the damage himself.
Emergency officials say there are reports of extensive damage in and around the central Illinois community of Washington and that rescue teams are there responding to reports of people trapped in buildings.
Hundreds of people picked through the rubble of what remained of their homes in the town of about 15-thousand. The tornado destroyed entire blocks of homes. Resident Susan Newton lives next door to the Trails Edge neighborhood that was heavily damaged. She says the tornado demolished most of her street while she was at church:“We have neighbors that have lost their entire home, and last night we were at a dinner party at friends of ours, and their home is gone. Gone. There’s nothing left.”
Ambulances continued to race across town and traffic near Washington was backed up for miles. Emergency shelters are set up across the community. The extent of injuries remains unknown. Telephone service is spotty in the region and Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said Sunday that it's difficult to get solid information about the extent of the damage. She says that there are also reports of damage in Grundy and LaSalle counties.
The National Weather Service has confirmed tornadoes have touched down in other central Illinois communities but it's unclear if one tornado touched down several times or there were multiple tornadoes. The weather service says a tornado touched down in Frankfort, about 35 miles southwest of Chicago.
Several funnel clouds and tornados were reported by law enforcement and weather spotters throughout southern Illinois during Sunday afternoon's severe weather. So far there are four confirmed deaths. Washington County officials say an 80 year old man and his sister were killed in New Minden. Their farm was destroyed by the storm.
Emergency officials in Massac County say, so far, two people are confirmed dead in the Brookport area as a result of the severe storms. Authorities say several people were trapped in their homes following the the storm. The sheriff's department says Brookport has issued a curfew until 6:00 am Monday. Ameren Illinois reports that more than 600 customers are without power in Massac County.