Midwest Assesses Tornado Damage

Michele Hooper hid her four children under a mattress in their basement as a tornado roared through their home, jabbing trees through the roof and sending debris flying.

They all survived uninjured, although their Springfield, Ill., home was in shambles.

"That's all that matters," Hooper, 31, said at a Red Cross shelter with her family. "We're all here together."

Early reports show more than 100 twisters touched down in five states from Oklahoma to Illinois, the National Weather Service said.

Damage estimates were still begin tallied Tuesday. Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency throughout his state, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared a disaster in seven counties, and three southern Indiana counties were under states of emergency.

At the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where classes were canceled Monday because of the danger of falling debris, University Chancellor Robert Hemenway put the damage at $6 million.

Springfield, Illinois' capital, was hit hard twice in 24 hours, first by twin tornadoes that hit late Sunday — one about a half mile wide — and then by strong wind early Monday.

The storms blew out windows of the Statehouse, tore up scores of homes, toppled traffic signals and littered the city with debris. Tuesday morning, Interstate 72 had reopened, with the grain silo that had been blocking it lying instead in the median.

According to National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Shimon, that storm cell spawned about 20 tornadoes along a 400-mile path and was the biggest to pass through central Illinois in a decade.

Belinda Harris huddled in a bathtub with her boyfriend and her 17-year-old son as the storm crashed through.

"We just cuddled all together and hoped we were going to make it," Harris said Monday. "It's the scariest thing I've ever been through."

Others weren't as lucky.

The tornadoes killed nine people in Missouri. One person drowned in Indiana as heavy rain flooded roads, a tree toppled by high wind killed a motorist in Michigan, and 11 deaths were blamed on the Texas wildfires.

The violent weather was driven by a powerful low-pressure system over the Midwest that pulled warm air out of the Gulf of Mexico — the same phenomenon that caused the powerful wind that drove deadly wildfires across Texas over the weekend and brought softball-size hail to the Midwest and heavy snow to the northern Plains. While Indiana was deluged, northern Wisconsin was digging out Tuesday from 32 inches of snow.

In Sedalia, Mo., one of the tornadoes ripped the front door off the Sedalia homestead of Randy and Sherry Vinson, demolished her greenhouse, overturned a truck and flattening warehouses for their building supply business.

But in the midst of the destruction, fish were still alive in the 55-gallon aquarium in their living room. Randy Vinson hooked up a generator to run the fish tank's air pump.

"I might as well keep them alive. They made it through all of that," he said.