Tornado Outbreak Death Toll at Six, Entire Towns Flattened
Washington, IL - A devastating outbreak of severe tornadoes leveled entire towns Sunday and left six dead as of early Monday, officials say.
The outbreak was caused by in intense dip in the jet stream, with winds blowing strongly from the west overlapping winds from the ground blowing in from the south and southeast. The difference and wind speed and direction are what meteorologists call "wind shear", which makes storms rotate, and produce tornadoes.
The ABC 13 Viewing area was spared the worst of the storm, as predicted, Sunday night. A trailing line of weakening showers and storms reached the mountains of Giles, Craig, and Nelson Counties, but the storms fell apart to just rain showers as they were disrupted by the Blue Ridge Mountains.
To our north and west, however, search and recovery operations are underway after severe tornadoes wreaked havoc on the Midwest, killing at least six people and injuring dozens more after powerful winds flattened homes and decimated much of the town of Washington, Ill.
A sixth death was confirmed late Sunday night after 77 reports of tornadoes ripped through the Midwest earlier in the day. One of the tornadoes in New Minden, Ill., was estimated to be an EF 4 with winds up to 200 mph.
Jonathon Monken, the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said a third person was confirmed dead Sunday night in Massac County. An elderly couple was killed in Nashville, Ill., and another person was killed in Washington.
At least 37 people were injured in the storms, although officials said they expect that number to rise significantly.
The town of Washington, a rural community of 16,000, appeared to have been one of the hardest hit. Rows of homes were completely flattened, trees uprooted and cars turned upside down.
"I crawled into my kitchen and the whole roof came off. My table went sideways, my glass doors blew in, my house is devastated and [I] still can't find my cat," Washington resident Alicia Bachman told ABC News Radio.
In a news release, the Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with "immediate search and recovery operations in the tornado damaged area."
"The whole neighborhood's gone. The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house," Michael Perdun told The Associated Press.
"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."
Lisa Hunter's son Brevin, 6, convinced his mother and to head to their basement and hide under a mattress.
"We just covered up with a mattress," he said. "And she was holding me tight. I was holding her tight."
When the tornado finally passed, they discovered their Washington home was reduced to rubble within minutes.
"When I went outside I was like oh my, God! Our whole entire neighborhood. I never even knew it would look like that," Brevin.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier was in church when the tornado ripped through the town. Mainer quickly sprang into action and ushered people to safety.
"I was in church and I actually had our worshipers go to the basement and I'm sure some of them probably thought I was off my rocker but you know a lot of times churches don't necessarily do tornado drills and fire drills like schools and businesses," Manier told ABC News Radio.
Manier said he was grateful he spent so much time going over emergency preparedness disaster plans.
"I was in church and I actually had our worshipers go to the basement and I'm sure some of them probably thought I was off my rocker, but you know a lot of times churches don't necessarily do tornado drills and fire drills like schools and businesses," he said.
Illinois State Trooper Dustin Pierce said the tornado cut a path from one end of town to the other, knocking down power lines, rupturing gas lines and ripping off roofs.
"There's a lot of power lines down. Some of them might be live. There's a lot of gas leaks still. So we really need people to stay back," Pierce told ABC News Radio.
"There's a lot of homes affected by this including a lot of multi-family homes, apartment buildings, things like that, so they're still going through those areas you know searching looking for injured people," he added
The tornado that ripped through Washington was part of a massive storm system that tore across Illinois around noon Sunday, causing widespread damage and forcing officials to evacuate the crowd of approximately 60,000 at Chicago's Soldier Field during a Bears football game.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared a state of disaster in seven counties: Champaign, Grundy, LaSalle, Massac, Tazewell, Washington and Woodford.
In the small town of Gifford, north of Champaign, more than 20 homes were completely destroyed, and there was no power.
The storm also slammed through parts of Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky as it made its way east into the Mid-Atlantic states on Sunday night.
ABC News Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.