By NewsTribune Staff
and the Associated Press
Ike and Betty Mason were sitting in Mass when the warning sirens began to wail. All of the church’s parishioners rid out the storms in the church basement.
After the sirens ceased, Mass was resumed. It wasn’t until they left church that they realized their Washington, Ill., home and all of them surrounding it were destroyed.
“Their neighborhood was gone,” said Ottawa resident Susan Thornton, Betty’s sister. “My sister is the family historian and she was able to save the memorabilia that was irreplaceable. Like she said, the rest is just ‘stuff.’ They are very resilient.”
Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the Midwest on Sunday, leaving at least six people dead and unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees.
Illinois was the hardest struck with at least six people killed and dozens more injured. Perhaps the hardest struck was Washington. There a tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of town to the other, State Trooper Dustin Pierce said.
One tornado trounced through the village of Dana located in La Salle County’s southern panhandle.
Gov. Pat Quinn declared several counties state disaster areas including La Salle County.
Today, Washington mayor Gary Manier estimated 250-500 homes were damaged or destroyed in the storm and that it wasn’t clear when residents would be allowed to return.
Among the residents are Robin Soeder and her four children. La Salle resident Ollie Miller, Soeder’s aunt, said the Soeders lost everything when the tornado destroyed their rental house.
“She didn’t have renters insurance and she also lost all of her memorabilia,” Miller said. “We think a man in 100 miles away may have one of her photos but she has lost everything and has to start over. It’s devastating.”
The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.
An 80-year-old man and his 78-year-old sister were killed by a tornado that hit their farmhouse near the rural southern Illinois community of New Minden, coroner Mark Styninger said. A third person died in Washington, while three others perished in Massac County in the far southern part of the state, said Patti Thompson of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. She did not provide details.
Communications remained difficult and with many roads impassable it was not clear if the injury and death tolls would rise on Monday. Ill. Gov. Pat Quinn declared seven counties disaster areas, including La Salle County, where the village of Dana was struck by a twister.
Peru native Tammy (Towne) O’Marah is among those whose homes were heavily damaged or destroyed.
O’Marah resides in Washington and was out of town with her daughter Sunday when the tornadoes struck. Her husband, son and dog all were home, however; they took cover and the roof above them was blown off.
O’Marah said she’s grateful they were unhurt. She returned from Indiana late Sunday and has yet to see what’s left of her home.
“I know the whole entire neighborhood was affected,” O’Marah said. “It’s pretty overwhelming. I don’t even know what I’m looking at right now.”
Illinois Valley damage
Aside from the tornadoes, wind and hail caused by the storms did plenty of damage throughout the Illinois Valley and knocked out power to thousands of rural residents.
“We had a 73 mile-an-hour wind measured at the fire station,” Standard fire chief Mike Skowera said, adding that the fire station garage doors looked like they were partially sandblasted after being pelted by hail during those winds.
In Princeton, one of Sunday’s storms blew down the tall Pilot truck stop sign that included the company logo and electronic fuel price updates. The sign fell and damaged a semitrailer. Suzanne Denton of Princeton posted a photo on Twitter with the caption, “Gas prices falling at Princeton truck stop.” There were no injuries, and that was the only major damage Princeton firefighters were aware of in the city.
“We were very fortunate compared to the people down in Washington,” Princeton firefighter Luke Davis remarked.
That storm that produced the Washington was just one of many in Illinois, including storms that arrived at about 10:30 a.m. and delivered marble-sized hail and even a few quarter-sized stones south of Shooting Park Road in Peru.
In the La Salle-Peru area, small tree branches were down in many streets in the La Salle-Peru area, as 60-mph gusts were reported before 11 a.m. today.
In Peru, firefighters were called for various hazards, including a small tree that briefly blocked most of West Street between Centennial Park and Peru Public Library briefly at about 10:45 a.m. With more storms predicted, La Salle crews were clearing debris away from drains, such as at Third and Marquette, so puddles could subside.
In Putnam County, downed trees and power outages were reported countywide. Standard firefighters were called after flying debris knocked a gauge off an above-ground array of natural gas distribution pipes at Moews Seed along Route 89 south of Route 71 just before 11 a.m. Fire chief Mike Skowera said when the gauge attached to a small pipe broke off a big pipe, gas began to vent out, and could be smelled three miles east in Standard. The fire department evacuated a resident at the Moews property for about an hour while Ameren was fixing the leak.
Standard firefighters also were called just before noon about a live wire on a house on Seventh Street, about a power pole down south of town, a tree down on the Bottom Road east of Route 89 and two evening mutual aid calls to assist Granville Fire Department after alarms were triggered at Putnam County High School and the primary school. Granville and Hennepin fire departments dealt with downed trees and long-lasting power outages as well.
Peru activated extra city and emergency crews to clear leaves from catch basins, and due to power lines down. Brunner Street east of Water Street in eastern Peru was inundated and a car was reported in the water “up to its door handles” at one location. Peru fire chief Jeff King said city and fire crews cleared leaves from drains to eliminate some road flooding, such as at Sixth and Plum streets, along Marquette Road from 26th to 28th streets as well.
A downed line closed May Road near the former King’s Inn in Peru for a while, and Peru firefighters were called to help close North 35th Road north of town in Dimmick Township due to two snapped utility poles and lines down.
La Salle County Sheriff’s Office said extra personnel were called in Sunday afternoon to help in the wake of the storms. A lot of debris on roadways was reported and needed to be cleared, and as of 12:30 p.m., deputies and crews were checking on people in the Dana and Rutland areas.
Near Wenona on Interstate 39, Lostant firefighters assisted the Wenona department after a semitrailer rolled over during the wind storm. Lostant chief Andy Forrest said weather spotters from the department did not see a funnel cloud, and other than limbs down, there wasn’t much damage in the village.
In the Lee County area on Interstate 39, emergency crews were helping drivers and with traffic control after five separate incidents in which wind blew over semitrailers, mostly in the Interstate 88 area.
Storms continued rolling
The Illinois National Guard assisted with search and recovery operations in Washington.
The White House issued a statement saying President Barack Obama had been briefed about the damage and was in touch with federal, state and local officials. Quinn and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence were scheduled to survey affected areas in their respective states Monday.
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.
ISP Trooper Pierce said there were reports of looting around town.
Across Washington, an auto parts store with several people inside was reduced to a pile of bricks, metal and rebar; a battered car, its windshield impaled by a piece of lumber, was flung alongside it.
“The employees were climbing out of this,” Pierce said, gesturing to the rubble behind him. None of them was seriously injured, he said.
At OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in nearby Peoria, 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. Brian Williamson, a state spokesman, said hospitals reported treating about 60 people in Washington, but said that figure could grow.
About 90 minutes after the tornado destroyed homes in Washington, the stormy weather darkened downtown Chicago. As the rain and high winds slammed into the area, officials at Soldier Field evacuated the stands and ordered the Bears and Baltimore Ravens off the field. Fans were allowed back to their seats shortly after 2 p.m., and the game resumed after about a two-hour delay.
Earlier, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications had issued a warning to fans, urging them “to take extra precautions and ... appropriate measures to ensure their personal safety.”
Just how many tornadoes hit was unclear. Although about 80 reports of tornadoes had come in as of Sunday night, the National Weather Service’s Bunting 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.
Weather service meteorologist Matt Friedlein said such weather is rare this late in the year, but that strong winds coupled with temperatures in the 60s and 70s spawned Sunday’s storms.