MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Across parts of the Midwest today, clean up is under way following a vicious storm that spawned dozens of tornadoes yesterday. Authorities now say at least eight people were killed, many others were hurt and tens of thousands are without power.
NPR's David Schaper is in one of the hardest hit communities, the Peoria suburb of Washington, Illinois. And, David, why don't you describe the damage you've seen there in Washington, Illinois?
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: Well, the devastation is quite substantial here. There's a subdivision that is called the Devonshire subdivision in Washington here, and the tornado cut a path straight through it. It just smashed, obliterated everything in it. And what's just remarkable about the damages is that debris, of course, is piled up in the subdivision. There's splintered wood everywhere, you know, cars tossed around like they were toys and hurled upside down and smashed to bits.
But you know miles and miles away on a highway into this town, I could see farm fields where there's, you know, scattered debris, roofing shingles, splintered wood, siding - aluminum siding twisted all around in crumbled pieces. And I even heard reports today of paper debris, photographs and bills and things that were lifted up off of people's desks or off their dining room tables raining down over a hundred miles away from here up in the Chicago area.
BLOCK: And overall, David, eight people reported dead which, given the strength of these storms and the breadth of them across such a big swath of the Midwest, you might have expected to see many more casualties. How much advance warning did people have?
SCHAPER: What is key in keeping the death toll down - and here in Washington, there is only one fatality, seven others scattered about the state of Illinois and elsewhere in the Midwest. It was that these - the forecasters at the National Weather Service saw this coming. On Friday, they called officials with the Illinois Emergency Management Association who got in touch with local authorities. Everyone kind of pow-wowed and planned and said this is the conditions. It could happen. We don't know when, and we don't know where exactly.
But sure enough, the tornadoes did spawn and somewhat quite devastating. But advance warnings were heeded and people took shelter. The other factor that - here in Washington, for example, the storm hit at about 11 o'clock on Sunday morning. Many folks were at church and away from their homes and not in that subdivision. And in fact, one of the churches in the neighborhood that a lot of people went to was just out of the path. They all took shelter. They had tornado shelters in that church. But they were able to seek cover, and the tornado just kind of skips right by and missed that church entirely.
BLOCK: And, David, what can you tell us about damage elsewhere besides in Washington, Illinois?
SCHAPER: There are several areas outside of this community here. East Peoria, another - and Pekin are two other communities right here in this Peoria area that had tornado damage. Twisters touched down in several other communities east and north, a little bit of the Champaign-Urbana area. Most of these communities are small towns. (Unintelligible) County in Southern Illinois near the southern tip of the state had some substantial damage.
There were some damage east of St. Louis and all the way up to and approaching the Chicago suburbs. But here, the devastation seems probably the most substantial and most devastating in terms of structural damage. But again...
BLOCK: And very briefly, David, the timing of this batch of storms is unusual to be coming this late in the fall.
SCHAPER: It really is. I mean, the Midwest is prone to tornadoes in the spring, in the summertime and even early in spring when we get that warm weather, unusually warm weather in late February or March. But we have a very warm weekend. It was pretty muggy. And those produced the conditions, forecasters say, for this powerful storm.
BLOCK: OK. NPR's David Schaper ion Washington, Illinois. David, thank you.
SCHAPER: Thank you.
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