Valorie Eversole, Daily Union Editor, and The Associated Press
SHELBYVILLE, IL. —
High winds brought damage to trees and out buildings around Shelby County Sunday afternoon, but fortunately no tornadoes or injuries were reported. The winds were part of a massive storm system that marched quickly through the Midwest toward the eastern coast.
“We got pretty lucky with this one. I can’t say that enough,” said Shelby County Emergency Management Services (EMA) administrator Jared Rowcliffe. “The hardest hit areas was Dollville and there were power lines down south of Findlay and around Henton. Five substations were down and crews were working on them.”
Tornadoes were reported in some of the neighboring counties including Christian, Fayette and Effingham. The Effingham County Sheriff’s department confirmed one tornado northwest of Altamont east of Route 128. That twister blew over trees, damaged houses, and destroyed a barn. Power lines fell over roadways in the St. Elmo and Brownstown areas.
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.
Bill Bunting, forecast operations chief of the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the storms all belonged to the same system.
Illinois was the hardest struck with at least six people killed and dozens more injured.
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.
Washington, a town of 16,000 about 140 miles southwest of Chicago, appeared to have suffered the most severe damage. The EF-4 tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of town to the other with winds between 170 and 190 miles per hour.
Meanwhile, a tornado that touched down in southern Illinois near New Minden, about 45 miles southeast of St. Louis, also had a preliminary rating of an EF-4. A northern Illinois tornado near Coal City had wind gusts between 111 and 135 miles per hour, making it an EF-2.
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.
Monday Governor Pat Quinn declared seven counties state disaster areas: Champaign, Grundy, LaSalle, Massac, Tazewell, Washington and Woodford counties.
“Yesterday (Sunday) Illinois was hit extremely hard by deadly tornadoes that left many in a great deal of pain and loss,” Governor Quinn said Monday. “Although we are still receiving reports of massive damage to communities across our state, we want to make sure people are getting the assistance and resources they need as quickly as possible. As we pray for the families of those who have lost their lives and others who are injured, the state of Illinois will do everything necessary to help these communities recover.”
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.