State officials said a fourth person also died in north-central Illinois but no details were available. More tornadoes damaged towns in central Indiana, injuring at least five people, as thunderstorms rolled through the Midwest.
Five people were pulled alive from the rubble of Utica's Milestone Tap, and authorities believed as many as five others could still be inside. They said workers were hampered by the century-old building's crumbling, unstable sandstone walls.
Authorities said Wednesday morning they had not had communication from anyone in the tavern for hours.
"We're hoping as we get down through the debris, we're holding hope to find some survivors of this," LaSalle County Sheriff Tom Templeton said at a news conference. "In a few hours, we'll know more."
Rescue workers were moving carefully in case there were survivors, said Mayor Fred Esmond. "You can't just go in there and tear it apart," the mayor said. "You have to do it by hand."
Coroner Jody Bernard said three bodies were found in the wreckage of the two-story building that housed the Milestone Tap. However, Bill Burke, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and Tom Schafer of the Department of Public Health said there were four deaths in and around the community of about 1,000 residents some 90 miles southwest of Chicago.
At several news conferences, local officials would not address the discrepancy with the number given by Burke and Schafer.
Four of the injured in the Utica area, including three children, were hospitalized, officials said.
In Indiana, officials were surprised by the storms, said Alden Taylor, a spokesman for the State Emergency Management Agency.
"It was warm, but those are what are called popcorn storms that will suddenly appear. It's very difficult to predict them," Taylor said.
CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers reports the storm tore through the area right around dinner time Tuesday. Longtime landmarks are gone, knocked to the ground like children's blocks. 18-wheelers were tossed aside like Tonka trucks.
Authorities said three to six people suffered minor injuries in Jamestown, Ind., northwest of Indianapolis, where about a dozen homes were damaged. The storm reportedly blew as many as four tractor-trailers rigs off highways.
More than 30 teenagers were attending a party in the Kokomo, Ind., Skating Arena when a tornado tore off the building's roof. Employees saw the twister approaching in time to give a warning, and no injuries were reported.
"You know the rides they have at amusement parks, where the roof raises and then drops like it's going to hit you? That's what it was like," said Jill Foster, sponsor of one group of skaters.
In Utica, dozens of buildings in a three- to four-block area were damaged, several of them collapsed in piles of brick and splintered wood, said state Trooper Tim Reppin.
"This would equate to what I saw in Plainfield 10 or 15 years ago," Reppin said, referring to the Aug. 28, 1990, tornado that killed 29 people and damaged more than 1,000 homes along a 16-mile path near Joliet.
Mervin Taylor had just finished rounding up his 22 head of cattle when the huge tornado barreled toward his home but took a left turn about a block away and headed for Utica.
"I didn't have time to be scared," the 72-year-old farmer said. His property wasn't damaged.
The storm also collapsed a drug store roof and destroyed at least one home in Joliet, a small city southwest of Chicago, and damaged about 60 homes and a bank in Granville, near Utica, officials said.
"It happened so quick, we just ran to basement," said Sam Zulbeari, whose Ali's Pantry Family Restaurant in downtown Granville escaped damage. "We got scared a little bit, but we're lucky we didn't get hurt. … It's just miserable."