People across the central U.S. were picking up the pieces Sunday after a line of thunderstorms spawned a series of rare December tornadoes late Friday and into Saturday.
The storms were blamed for the death of one person in Missouri, while at least 21 people were injured in central Illinois. The National Weather Service confirmed tornadoes in both states, as well as in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
The National Weather Service sent teams to Taylorville, 25 miles southeast of Springfield and areas along the Illinois River to survey damage, the Springfield Journal Register reported. Photographs and video from the town showed several houses flattened, with residents wading into debris to salvage what they could. Some homes remained standing but with gaping holes in the roofs or with no roofs at all.
The tornado was on the ground for around 10 miles before it thundered through Taylorville, and the weather service was able to warn residents of its arrival 41 minutes before it actually struck, Chris Miller, a meteorologist at the service's Lincoln office, said in a phone interview Sunday. That advanced warning gave people critical time to take cover and may have saved lives.
“I was on the south side when the storm came through,” Taylorville assistant fire chief Andy Goodall said, according to the paper. “There was multiple, I would guess over 100 (homes) easily, that were damaged severely because it took a pass almost right through town. And most of those houses’ roofs are gone and significant damage, including my own.”
The 21 who were injured were from Taylorville and included a 9-year-old and a 97-year-old. Doctors said three of the injured were taken to a hospital in Springfield in serious condition, but most were released within hours.
Miller said preliminary estimates are that the Taylorville tornado may have been an EF2, which indicates wind speeds as high as 135 mph. It could take several more days to know for sure.
The weather service said Sunday that a strong tornado that developed from severe thunderstorms Friday night touched down in Van Buren, Arkansas. It was rated an EF2. About 10 minutes later, a second weaker tornado was confirmed less than 10 miles away near the town of Rudy, Ark.
Damage surveys for the two tornadoes are ongoing but officials said dozens of homes were damaged.
Early Saturday morning a third tornado with estimated peak winds of 107 mph traveled about 8.5 miles through Spring Hill in southwest Arkansas. Its path was intermittent and mostly caused damage to trees and to some structures.
No injuries or deaths were reported there.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.