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At Least Four Tornadoes Touched Down During Wednesday's Storms

CHICAGO (CBS) -- At least four tornadoes touched down in northern Illinois on Wednesday, as a series of powerful storms swept through the area, leaving behind widespread damage, and knocking out power to thousands of homes and businesses.

According to the National Weather Service, a tornado touched down near Paw Paw around 7:30 p.m., another touched down in Seneca around 9:15 p.m., a third touched down near Pontiac about 10:15 p.m., and a fourth touched down near Piper City shortly after 11 p.m.

Funnel clouds also were spotted near La Moille, Earlville, and West Brooklyn, but the National Weather Service has not yet confirmed if those touched down.

Three survey crews were sent out to survey damage along three separate paths early Thursday: from Amboy to Sheridan, from Troy Grove to Seneca, and from Pontiac to Chatsworth.

The National Weather Service said the number of tornadoes could increase.

At least four injuries were reported in Pontiac, and two of those people were taken to the hospital, after the storms caused heavy damage at two gas stations, a Walmart store, and a trailer park.

A Shell gas station was reduced to rubble. The canopy of another gas station across the street toppled in the storm, hitting a gas tanker and a semi-trailer truck. Police said it did not appear there was any fuel in the tanker at the time.

Pontiac Damage 1
(Credit: CBS)

The twister then went south, hitting a Walmart store, punching several holes in the building, and twisting shopping carts in the parking lot.

The storm then hit a nearby trailer park, and one trailer was ripped off its foundation and thrown several feet. A family was inside at the time. They were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

"It hit the back row of this trailer park. It actually blew through a trailer, moved it off its moorings, rolled it out into the field a little bit, and caused a few injuries to the people inside," Pontiac Fire Chief Scott Runyon said.

Neighbor Linda Guzman watched the whole thing from her window.

"It was horrible. It was a horrible experience. I've never seen anything like it, and I feel real bad for the people that had to go actually through it, and lost everything. They're lucky to escape with their lives," she said.

Pontiac Police Chief Jim Woolford said residents should avoid the areas hit by the tornado, because there is significant cleanup ahead.

"I'm glad that I haven't been bombarded with losses of life. So the fact that we don't have any deaths out of it – some minor injuries going on – I'm pretty grateful," he said.

In Seneca, the Maierhofer family's 130-year-old family farm took the brunt of the damage, with several buildings and grain bins demolished.

"Just a surreal disbelief that this actually happened here; something you normally see … people on TV, for other people; but this is just devastating for the history of the farm that we had here," Jeff Maierhofer said.

He wasn't home at the time, but his wife was. She rode out the storm in the basement with her two sons and their neighbors. The Maierhofers allowed neighbors to huddle in the basement of their farmhouse when the storm hit, and as many as 10 people were inside when the storms hit.

"I look at the damage, and I think about what it could have been; how much worse. I have friends who lost their homes in Washington a couple years ago, and it's not nearly as bad, and everybody's safe. Nobody got hurt," Jenna Maierhofer said.

Although there was significant damage, with the cleanup in full gear, the Maierhofer said at least the farm will survive.

Seneca Damage 1
(Photo courtesy Maierhofer family)

After sunrise Thursday, the Maierhofer family said it appeared the tornado destroyed most everything on the farm. Some grain silos were destroyed, and multiple farmhouses sustained significant damage.

Ironically, the trailers where their friends live were not damaged by the storm.

Elsewhere in Seneca, multiple light poles and power lines were down, and debris was strewn across roads.

ComEd said approximately 26,000 customers lost power as a result of the storms. As of 8 a.m., ComEd had restored power to 90 percent of those affected by the storms, and more than 400 ComEd and contractor crews were in the field making repairs.

Airlines cancelled hundreds of flights Wednesday night at O'Hare and Midway airports due to the weather. City officials said 325 flights were cancelled at O'Hare and 70 were cancelled at Midway on Wednesday.

The storms also caused a two-hour delay at the Copa America semifinal game at Soldier Field. Play was halted at halftime, and 50,000 fans were told to shelter in place under the stands as a powerful storm moved through. The game continued around 10:20 p.m., and Chile defeated Colombia 2-0.


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