Weather Updates

At least 6 dead as tornadoes cause widespread damage in Illinois

Updated: November 18, 2013 7:41AM

Strong thunderstorms battered the Chicago area and delayed the Bears game — but the worst damage was Downstate in central Illinois.

National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Friedlein said the agency confirmed that a strong tornado touched down near Coal City — around central Grundy County and far western Will County — with wind speeds between 113 and 157 mph. That EF-2 tornado was part of the same storm that produced the unconfirmed reports in Washington, Frankfort, as well as Dana, in rural LaSalle County, according to the weather service.

As many as 16 tornadoes touched down across the state from the southern tip, to as far north as Frankfort, near the Will and Cook county border, Friedlein said. Weather spotters near Washington, a suburb of Peoria, reported a funnel cloud touched down in the area Sunday. But crews were waiting for daylight to survey the damage and make a final determination, he said.

Officials confirmed that six people were killed when tornadoes hit central and southern Illinois. One person was killed in the the central Illinois city of Washington, where a tornado destroyed several blocks of houses. In Washington County in southern Illinois, the coronor said an elderly man and his sister were killed when a tornado struck their farm house in the town of New Minden, about 50 miles southeast of St. Louis. Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, said three people were killed in Massac County in far southern Illinois.

In Washington, a rural community of 16,000, whole blocks of houses were erased from the landscape, and Illinois State Police Trooper Dustin Pierce told the AP that the tornado cut a path from one end of town to the other, knocking down power lines, rupturing gas lines and ripping off roofs.

Working under a full moon Sunday evening, Washington residents Phil and Carmen Jones carried “the important stuff” to their car.

They were in church when the storm hit. Just before the service, Carmen Jones recalled, the preacher told everyone to go to the basement.

“We were singing in the basement with all the kids,” she said.

When they returned home, they found the house they have lived for 40 years had been destroyed. Their two Yorkshire terriers were under their bed.

“I found them under the bed . . . where good puppies belong,” Phil Jones said.

Not sure where they would sleep Sunday night, they packed up their dogs and their clothes in the back of their sedan. Phil Jones did his best to shut the door — the roof is gone, their garage is missing and the windows are blown out.

“Nothing like starting over at age 75,” Phil Jones said.

“We don’t have to rip that wallpaper off now,” Carmen replied.

Many of those injured in Washington were taken to OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in nearby Peoria. The hospital disaster response team was dispatched to Washington, where they set up a triage station to handle incoming wounded. The hospital treated 37 patients, three of whom remained in serious condition Sunday evening, hospital spokeswoman Amy Paul said.

On its website, the city advised residents that there would be a curfew from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. every day until the weekend.

A resident of Washington said a tornado wiped out his house and his entire neighborhood in a matter of seconds. Michael Perdun told the Associated Press that when he heard the sound of the tornado bearing down on his neighborhood Sunday morning he only had time to run downstairs, grab his 10-year-old daughter and crouch in the laundry room until the tornado swept through. When he walked up the stairs, only the wall of his fireplace was standing.

The tornadoes did so much damage that Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said “it is clear that coordinated local, state and federal resources will be needed to rebuild.”

Gov. Pat Quinn was handling phone calls from emergency officials across the state, spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. He canceled his Monday schedule to tour hardest-hit areas.

Thompson said the state’s emergency operations center was activated Sunday afternoon in Springfield. Personnel were dispatched to Washington to work closely with local responders there. Emergency communications equipment was set up to help with communications among first-responders there. Technical rescue teams also were sent to Washington.

Southwest of Chicago, an undetermined number of people suffered minor injuries Sunday, buildings were damaged in Coal City and people were rescued after being trapped in a church in Diamond. Fences were knocked down, traffic lights were out and tree limbs were felled in some neighborhoods, while others escaped unscathed.

Coal City firefighter Nick Doerfler confirmed buildings were knocked down by the storm, which touched down near Diamond, Berta Road and along Route 113 and Interstate 55 southwest of Joliet. Doerfler said people had been injured, but nobody was reported killed.

The Chrome Rack bar and the Assembly of God church in Diamond also suffered significant damage, said Chuck Pelkie, a spokesman for the Will County emergency management agency. An unknown number of people were trapped in the church at one point, he said, but they were rescued and only minor injuries were reported. Seven houses in Manhattan suffered major damage, but only minor injuries were reported, Pelkie said.

In Chicago, Friedlein said, winds up to 59 mph were reported at Midway Airport. But those weren’t recorded until after the storm hit the Chicago area between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. The area generally saw between a half-inch to an inch of rain, but he said localized areas saw as much as three inches of rainfall.

In the southwest suburbs, authorities were surveying the damage left in the wake of the storm. Frankfort Police Chief John Burica reported said tree limbs knocked down power lines early Sunday afternoon. No injures, no flooding or major damage have been reported at this time, the chief said.

“For the size of the storm, we’re in good shape,” Burica said.

While the Bears-Ravens game started on time — just after noon — play was stopped and the seating area was cleared. Fans were passing the time in the covered concourse area, until the game resumed at 2:25 p.m., officials said. The National Football League makes the decision about any game delays, officials at Soldier Field said.

“We’ve been season ticket holders forever and this is the first time I’ve seen it this bad,” said Rebecca Marino, 26, a store manager from Downers Grove, who came to the game with her sister. “They made an announcement to seek shelter and we decided to leave. Our lives are more important than this,” she said.

Kevin Berglund had booked a South Shore Line return trip to his Chesterton, Ind., home, but worried during the delay that he’d miss the train. He stood in the concourse beyond the south end zone, people watching and connecting with friends.

“We’re dedicated fans,” he said.

Those crammed under overhangs and into the United Club during the delay watched television, bought food and drinks and even, outdoors, snuck cigarette sessions despite Soldier Field policy.

Jackie Vitiello joked that she didn’t know “what’s going on outside,” as she was sipping a beer inside the United Club.

Andy Murphy of Wauconda admitted to being bored during the day, but vowed to stick it out.

“We have a deficit to make up,” he said. “We’ll stay the night if we have to.”

Before kickoff Sunday, Chicago’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications issued an alert urging Bears fans attending the game to take extra precautions to ensure their safety.

During the storms, no flights were allowed to leave or enter both O’Hare or Midway airports, according to the city’s Department of Aviation. Flights may be delayed up to an hour at both airports.

Contributing: Jessica Koscielniak, Mike Deacon, Adam Jahns, Patrick Finley, Reema Amin, Susan Demar Lafferty, Mike Nolan, Associated Press

In Washington, a rural community of 16,000, whole blocks of houses were erased from the landscape, and Illinois State Police Trooper Dustin Pierce told the AP that the tornado cut a path from one end of town to the other, knocking down power lines, rupturing gas lines and ripping off roofs.

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