Midwest Hit With Deadly Tornadoes, Severe Thunderstorms
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Scores of tornados rolled across the middle of the country yesterday, picking up cars, flipping farm equipment, smashing buildings. A tornado flattened entire blocks of homes in the town of Washington, Illinois, leaving people standing amid debris.
INSKEEP: Across the Midwest yesterday, people on Facebook spread photos of trees that fell on porches, or roofs torn off schools. At the start of the day, it had been said 120 million people were within range of severe weather.
MONTAGNE: By the day's end, at least six people were dead. And several states suffered damage, with the worst in Illinois.
Denise Molina of member station WCBU reports on the damage to communities near Peoria.
DENISE MOLINA, BYLINE: The storms rolled through the area just before 11 in the morning. Pekin, Illinois was one of the first communities to get hit with the intense storm line. Ryan Ball was in his apartment complex with his girlfriend when he received an alert on his phone about the impending storm.
RYAN BALL: Basically, I looked out my back window and I seen, you know, leaves whipping, like, horizontally. So I looked out my front window, and seen a power line explode. It was, like, purple, and it was crazy. I seen the tornado. I seen it, and then I - she was upstairs. I said, get downstairs. We got in the bathroom, and like that, it was gone.
MOLINA: The roof of Ball's apartment complex was torn off during the storm, but he and his girlfriend escaped unharmed. More than 100 Pekin homes were damaged in the tornado, with 46 of those completely destroyed. The tornado then made its way to other parts of the Peoria Metropolitan area, hitting several other communities. But Washington, Illinois, with a population of more than 15,000, sustained the heaviest damage. Entire subdivisions were destroyed, leaving hundreds without homes.
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MOLINA: Resident Susan Newton says she and her family were in church when the lights went out. She says her husband left to survey damage at their home once the storm passed.
SUSAN NEWTON: The tornado had demolished most of our street, but our devastation was nothing compared with our neighbors. We have neighbors that have lost their entire home. And last night, we were at a dinner party at friends of ours, and their home is gone. Gone. There's nothing left.
MOLINA: Officials immediately shut off access to the city following the tornado, and emergency responders from surrounding areas and the Illinois National Guard were called to the scene for search and rescue efforts. Crossroads United Methodist Church partnered with the Red Cross to serve as one of the many impromptu shelters for displaced residents. Sherry Guimond says her home sustained heavy damage, so she made her way to the shelter for assistance.
SHERRY GUIMOND: Actually, I think even more than that, we came for a friendly face. Just with everything that's gone on, it's been a pretty unbelievable day, and just to come to this church and see friendly faces when you've been through a traumatic experience like this is very, very meaningful.
MOLINA: Even residents watching the news from outside the Peoria area wanted to find ways to help. Kayla Patton lives in Bloomington, Illinois, 45 minutes away from the disaster site in Washington. She and a friend packed some of their own belongings, including blankets and clothing, and made their way to the Crossroads church to find ways to help.
KAYLA PATTON: At first, it was chaotic, and nobody had anything figured out. We were waiting on a plan. So we just stuck around and helped and asked what needed to be done, just helped unload food and whatnot, and then came in here and just started unloading everything, organizing it for people to come in and get what they need.
MOLINA: Hundreds came through the shelter throughout the day, and many without homes stayed overnight. It's still unclear how many people have been displaced in Central Illinois. Tornado survey teams are expected today to evaluate damage in the area.
For NPR News, I'm Denise Molina, in Peoria.