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Searchers comb through rubble after deadly storm system clobbers Midwest

 

Authorities fanned out across at least a half-dozen states Monday to assess damage and search for any people who may still be trapped after a series of deadly tornadoes and powerful storms tore through the nation's heartland the day before, destroying homes and flipping over cars.

At least eight were dead, thousands homeless and hundreds of thousands without power Monday as the region began the daunting task of recovering from powerful storm system that spawned several tornadoes. Illinois was hardest hit, with at least six people killed and seven counties declared disaster areas by Gov. Pat Quinn. Two people were declared dead in Michigan.

The wave of thunderstorms also brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 11 other states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.

One tornado that blew through Illinois' Washington County, east of St. Louis, left a path of destruction more than three miles long, according to a preliminary survey by the National Weather Service.

“The whole neighborhood’s gone. The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house,” said Michael Perdun, speaking by cellphone from the hard-hit central Illinois town of Washington, where he said his neighborhood was wiped out in a matter of seconds.

Rescuers fanned out across at least a half-dozen states Monday in a search for victims after a series of deadly tornadoes and powerful storms tore through the nation's heartland the day before, destroying homes and flipping over cars.

At least eight were dead, thousands homeless and hundreds of thousands without power Monday as the region began the daunting task of recovering from powerful storm system that spawned several tornadoes. Illinois was hardest hit, with at least six people killed and seven counties declared disaster areas by Gov. Pat Quinn. Two people were declared dead in Michigan.

The wave of thunderstorms also brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 11 other states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.

One tornado that blew through Illinois' Washington County, east of St. Louis, left a path of destruction more than three miles long, according to a preliminary survey by the National Weather Service.

“The whole neighborhood’s gone. The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house,” said Michael Perdun, speaking by cellphone 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.”

“Literally, neighborhoods are completely wiped out,” Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., who said he was in Washington, told Fox News on Sunday. “I’m looking at subdivisions of twenty to thirty homes and there’s not a home there.”

“The entire town of Washington is devastated,” he added.

Schock said the town has put out a call for physicians and nurses from surrounding areas after a tornado swept through the town midday.

“Many of these people thankfully took shelter in their basements but some of them didn’t and so there are some folks needing medical assistance and they have been finding them through the rubbish,” he told Fox News.

Early Monday, Washington Mayor Gary Manier estimated that from 250 to 500 homes were either damaged or destroyed in the storm and that it wasn't clear when residents would be allowed to return.

"Everybody's without power, but some people are without everything," Manier told reporters in the parking lot of a destroyed auto parts store and near a row of flattened homes. "How people survived is beyond me.”

Manier said later Monday that he was grateful that residents in Washington took cover in basements and churches after hearing storm sirens.

“In all the times we have gone to the basement for no reason, we thank God that our community listened [this time],” he said.

Several blocks of houses had been erased from the landscape in the rural community of 16,000. As law enforcement officers continued to search for victims and sized up the cleanup and rebuilding job ahead, they kept everyone but residents and emergency workers out. With power off and lines down in many areas, natural gas lines leaking and trees and other debris blocking many streets, an overnight curfew kept all but emergency vehicles off pitch-black roads. The only lights visible across most of Washington on Sunday night were red and blue flashes from police and fire truck lights. Trooper Dustin Pierce said there were reports of looting in Washington.

A FEMA representative said they did not have 100 percent accountability of everyone in the town as of midday Monday, but said there were no specific reports of missing people that they are chasing down. He said hundreds of properties were already searched.

Most of the devastating storm system had moved east and out over the Atlantic Ocean by Monday, although residual winds of up to 50 mph were seen over the Great Lakes and in the Northeast.

Just how many tornadoes hit was unclear. Although about 80 reports of tornadoes had come in as of Sunday night, Bill Bunting, the forecast operations chief 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.

Fox News meterologist Janice Dean said the stormfront could have created one of the top five outbreaks of tornadoes in November on record. The highest outbreak of tornadoes was in 1992, with 105 being reported between Nov. 21-23. Officials said the last such severe weather warning issued so late in the season in November came in 2005, and the result was an outbreak of 49 tornadoes.

Officials confirmed two storm-related deaths in Michigan Monday, raising to eight the toll from the severe weather that swept through the region.

Detroit police Officer Dan Donakowski says a 14-year-old boy was pronounced dead at a hospital after grabbing a downed power line Monday morning. He was walking home from a school that was closed due to power outages. Donakowski didn't provide the boy's name.

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.

On Sunday, the county coroner in Washington County in southern Illinois said that an elderly man and his sister died when a tornado struck their farm house in the town of New Minden, about 50 miles southeast of St. Louis.

One person died in Washington, while three others perished in Massac County in the far southern part of the state, according to Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. She did not provide details.

At OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, Ill., spokeswoman Amy Paul said 37 storm victims had been treated, including 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. A FEMA representative said Monday that 120 people were being treated for injuries in Washington.

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 White House said President Obama has been briefed about the severe weather.

"The White House will continue to stay in touch with our federal partners, including FEMA, as well as the state and local partners in the impacted states," it said in a statement Sunday night.

Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence were also scheduled to survey affected areas in their respective states Monday.

“We will recover; we will come together as a family. We’re all in this together,” Quinn said at a press conference Monday.

In Kentucky, a possible tornado touched down at a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, though no deaths or injuries were reported, and plant officials said no hazardous materials were released from the plant.

Tornadoes were spotted in at least eight Kentucky counties and at least one home had its roof blown off, a spokesman for the Kentucky Emergency Management said.

Strong winds knocked out power to thousands in the Milwaukee area, damaged buildings and downed trees in Dodge County and sent Sunday churchgoers scrambling into church basements for safety.

In the town of Hustisford, cattle sheds, garages and storage sheds were damaged, said Dodge County Emergency Management Director Joseph Meagher said. No injuries were immediately reported, he said.

Heavy winds from storms rolling through Ohio caused damage to buildings and left tens of thousands without power.

Wood County Director of Emergency Management Brad Gilbert said that two people suffered minor injuries when their house was damaged in Jerry City, about 10 miles southeast of Bowling Green.

Severe storms also slammed the eastern part of Missouri, leaving tens of thousands without power and destroying a mobile home.

In Chicago, storms raced through the downtown area so powerfully that the rain was not falling as much as it was slamming into the sides of buildings. There were no confirmed reports of injuries. Heavy rain, high winds, and lightning delayed the NFL game between the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens for around two hours while fans evacuated the stands.

National Weather Service meteorologist Friedlein said that 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 are 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.