WASHINGTON, Ill. — 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 took the brunt of the fury as the string of unusually powerful late-season tornadoes tore across the state, injuring dozens and even prompting officials at Chicago's Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears game.
"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."
An elderly man and his sister were killed when a tornado hit their home in the rural southern Illinois community of New Minden, said coroner Mark Styninger. 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.
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 Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with immediate search and recovery operations.
Whole blocks of houses were erased from the landscape in Washington, a rural community of 16,000, and Illinois State Police 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.