Twisters Leave 4 Dead; Rescue Effort Underway

Rescue workers used heavy equipment and shovels Wednesday to dig for possible victims in the rubble-filled basement of a tornado-flattened tavern where at least three others were killed. Four people were hospitalized.

State officials said a fourth person also died in north-central Illinois but no details were available. More tornadoes (search) 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 (search), 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 (search), 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.

The twister plowed into the town Tuesday evening, and John Devore, 44, said he had just seconds to rush his family into their basement and then look outside.

"It was like my brain wasn't comprehending what my eyes were seeing. I said, `Well, it looks like the car's OK,' and then a split second later, `Wait a minute, I'm not supposed to be able to see my car. Where the hell's my garage?"'

Gov. Rod Blagojevich planned to declare four counties state disaster areas, said his spokeswoman, Cheryle Jackson. Burke said Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) officials planned to visit Thursday to see if the areas qualified for federal disaster relief.

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.

Authorities said three to six people suffered minor injuries in Jamestown, Ind., northwest of Indianapolis. 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 and several collapsed.

The grade school was one of several buildings that lost roofs. A metal silo at the grain elevator collapsed and a piece of it was wrapped around a stop sign.

One house stood without its back wall, revealing the china cabinet still standing with dishes inside, and magnets remaining on the refrigerator.

"This would equate to what I saw in Plainfield 10 or 15 years ago," said state Trooper Tim Reppin, 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.

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.