At least 5 dead in Illinois as tornadoes pound Midwest

WASHINGTON, Ill.-- Intense thunderstorms and tornadoes swept across the Midwest on Sunday, killing at least five people in Illinois and injuring dozens of others as powerful winds uprooted trees, flipped over vehicles and mobile homes and flattened buildings.

The storms sent people across the region scrambling for shelter and even prompted officials at Chicago's Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears game.

Mark Styninger, the coroner of Washington County in Illinois, said an elderly man and his sister were killed around noon when a tornado hit their home in the rural community of New Minden.

A third person was killed in the central Illinois town of Washington, and two more died in Massac County in the far southern part of the state, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said. Officials did not have any details about the victims.

A spokeswoman at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill., said 37 patients were treated there, 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 people, but officials there said none were seriously injured.

In the hard-hit town of Washington, one resident 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," Michael Perdun said Sunday afternoon in an interview with The Associated Press on his cellphone. "The whole neighborhood's gone, (and) the wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house."

 It appears that the same tornado struck three times -- in Washington, Pekin and East Peoria, said Chief Terry Capps of the Limestone Township Fire District. Property damage was reported in both East Peoria and Pekin, where the roof of a liquor store was blown completely off, Capps said.

But Washington sustained the worst damage, with many flattened houses. Capps said officials were going door to door to check on residents. The Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with search and recovery operations. The Red Cross said it was setting up shelters.

"It's a sad day in Washington. The devastation is just unbelievable. You just can't imagine. It looks like a war zone in our community," said Washington Mayor Gary Manier told Reuters.

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. Storms rolled in along the lakefront shortly after kickoff, CBS Chicago reported. Fans were warned about a possible evacuation to the concourse with about 10 minutes left in the first quarter and were eventually told to leave their seats after the Ravens kicked a field goal with 4:51 left in the first quarter. Fans were allowed back to their seats shortly after 2 p.m., and the game resumed after about a two-hour delay.

No flights were allowed to leave or enter both O'Hare or Midway airports, the city's Department of Aviation told CBS Chicago.

As of mid-afternoon, the heavy rains and high winds had left 75,200 people without power in the Chicago area, ComEd spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said.

The storm system raced east. In Indiana, at least four people were injured. A 110-year-old building in Indianapolis that had been under renovation was completely destroyed. Power went out at the Purdue University campus, and a Starbucks in Lebanon, Ind., sustained serious damage, CBS affiliate WISH-TV in Indianapolis said.

Grant County Emergency Management Director Bruce Bender says one person was injured when two or three mobile homes rolled over at the Summit Village Trailer Park.

Mayor Greg Goodnight declared a state of emergency in Kokomo, where residents were urged to stay off the debris-strewn streets.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence planned to visit storm-ravaged areas around the state on Monday. Pence said tornado or storm damage had been reported in 12 counties.

An estimated 38,000 people were without power after the storms hit Ohio, thousands more lost electricity in eastern Missouri and the Milwaukee, Wis., area.

In Kentucky, tornadoes were spotted in eight counties.

The severity of the storms this late in the season also carries the risk of surprise.

"People can fall into complacency because they don't see severe weather and tornadoes, but we do stress that they should keep a vigilant eye on the weather and have a means to hear a tornado warning because things can change very quickly," said Matt Friedlein, a National Weather Service meteorologist.

Friedlein said that such strong storms are rare this late in the year because there usually isn't enough heat from the sun to sustain the thunderstorms. But he said temperatures Sunday were expected to reach into the 60s and 70s, which he said is warm enough to help produce severe weather when it is coupled with winds, which are typically stronger this time of year than in the summer.

"You don't need temperatures in the 80s and 90s to produce severe weather (because) the strong winds compensate for the lack of heating," he said. "That sets the stage for what we call wind shear, which may produce tornadoes."

He also said that the tornadoes this time a year happen more often than people might realize, pointing to a twister that hit the Rockford, Ill., area in November 2010.



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