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At least 8 dead as dozens of late-season twisters pummel Midwest

WASHINGTON, Ill. Illinois took the brunt of the fury as the string of unusually powerful late-season tornadoes tore across the state, injuring more than 100 people and even prompting officials at Chicago's Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears game.

Illinois town devastated by tornado
"The whole neighborhood's gone. The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house," said Michael Perdun, speaking by cell phone from the hard-hit central Illinois 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."

Officials said as many as 400 homes in Washington were either destroyed or heavily damaged, as well as dozens of others in nearby communities.

An elderly man and his sister were killed when a tornado hit their home in the rural southern Illinois community of New Minden, said coroner Mark Styninger. 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.

On Monday, officials confirmed two storm-related deaths in Michigan.

The Shiawassee County sheriff's department says 59-year-old Philip Daniel Smith of Perry in central Michigan was found dead and entangled in high-voltage power wires after going outside late Sunday to investigate a noise.

Also in central Michigan, Jackson County Sheriff Steven Rand says 21-year-old Ryan Allan Rickman of Leslie died when his vehicle was crushed by a fallen tree Sunday evening.

Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn says the state will help tornado-ravaged communities across Illinois with "every asset we have."

The governor spoke in Chicago Monday before traveling to central and southern Illinois communities to see storm damage first hand.

With communications difficult and many roads impassable, it remained unclear how many people might be hurt or whether the death toll would continue to climb. The Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with immediate search and recovery operations.

Whole blocks of houses were erased from the landscape in Washington, a rural community of 16,000, 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.

The storm also slammed through parts of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky as it made its way east into the mid-Atlantic states on Sunday night. Tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds tore through several communities, leaving hundreds of thousands without power as emergency crews tried to clear roads.

Among those who lost everything in Washington, Ill. was Curt Zehr, who described 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 an uprooted tree.

Late season tornado outbreak storms through the Midwest
"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. 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 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, reports CBS Chicago station WBBM-TV.

Earlier, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications had issued a warning to fans, urging them "to take extra precautions and ... appropriate measures to ensure their personal safety."

At least s 75,000 people lost power in the Chicago area, ComEd spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney said.

Just how many tornadoes hit was unclear. Although about 80 reports of tornadoes had come in as of Sunday night, Bill Bunting of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the actual number will likely be in the 30 to 40 range.

He said that's because the same tornado often gets reported multiple times.

In Ohio, utilities were working to restore power to more than 71,000 customers early Monday after downed power lines caused by the heavy winds knocked out electricity.

A statewide tornado watch was cancelled after the serious storms moved out of Ohio by 10 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. Tornado warnings had been issued and then repealed in counties across the state for much of the night. There were no confirmed reports of tornadoes in Ohio Sunday night and winds gusted to 66 mph, the weather service said.

Wood County, in the northwestern part of the state, was among the hardest hit areas, with multiple reports of damage to the roofs of buildings and homes. Two people suffered minor injuries and were taken to the hospital for evaluation after their home sustained substantial damage in Jerry City, about 10 miles southeast of Bowling Green, said Wood County Director of Emergency Management Brad Gilbert.

Strong wind and rain from the storm system knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people in Michigan, from Lake Michigan communities in the west to counties hundreds of miles to the east.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but trees and power lines snapped from winds topping 60 mph. Consumers Energy said late Sunday night that more than 190,000 customers lost power, with most in Kalamazoo and Kent counties. DTE Energy said about 200,000 customers lost electricity in its southeastern Michigan territory.

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.

The Indiana University Kokomo campus was closed Monday due to a power outage in the main building, school officials said.

At least two homes were destroyed, more than 3,000 were without power and a possible tornado touched down at a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky., Sunday as strong storms moved through the state. No deaths or injuries were reported, and plant officials said no hazardous materials were released from the plant.

When the weather service was issuing its warning that severe weather was bearing down on the Midwest, officials said the last such warning issued so late in the season in November came in 2005, and the result was an outbreak of 49 tornadoes.

Sunday's storms followed warnings by the weather service that they were simply moving too fast for people to wait until they saw the weather to get ready.

"This is a very dangerous situation," said Russell Schneider, director of the Storm Prediction Center. Some 53 million people in 10 states were "at significant risk for thunderstorms and tornadoes," he said.

The White House issued a statement saying President Obama had been briefed about the damage and was in touch with federal, state and local officials.

Such severe weather 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 weather service meteorologist.

Friedlein said 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."