US: Tornadoes sweep midwest, at least seven dead

A young boy surveys the damage done by a tornado outside Washington, Illinois yesterday. Picture: AP
A young boy surveys the damage done by a tornado outside Washington, Illinois yesterday. Picture: AP
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Dozens of tornadoes swept across the US Midwest in a rare November blast of warm-weather storms on Sunday, leaving at least seven people dead and unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighbourhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees.

With communications difficult and many roads impassable, it remained unclear on Monday night how many people were killed or hurt by the unusually strong late-season tornadoes.

But there was widespread destruction. Police were turning residents away from Washington, Illinois on Monday morning, where Mayor Gary Manier said authorities were continuing to evacuate residents out of concern that the remaining structures were dangerously unstable. Between 250 and 500 homes were either damaged or destroyed.

“Everybody’s without power, but some people are without everything,” Mr Manier said in the car park of a destroyed auto parts store and near a row of flattened homes. “How people survived is beyond me,” he said.

In Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn declared seven counties disaster areas.

An elderly man and his sister were killed when a tornado hit their home in rural Illinois. Four other people were killed in the state, the hardest hit by the tornados, said Patti Thompson of the Illinois emergency management agency.

In Michigan, officials said a 21-year-old man died when his vehicle was crushed by a fallen tree. As the rain and high winds struck the Chicago area on Sunday, officials cleared an American football stadium and moved teams off the field for a couple of hours.

Just how many tornadoes hit was unclear. According to the National Weather Service’s website, a total of 65 struck, most of them in Illinois. But meteorologist Matt Friedlein said the total might fall because emergency workers, tornado spotters and others often report the same tornado.

Matt Friedlein, a weather service meteorologist, said that such strong storms are rare this late in the year because there usually is not enough heat from the sun to sustain the thunderstorms. But he said temperatures Sunday reached between 16C and 26C, which he said is warm enough to help produce severe weather when it is coupled with winds, which are typically stronger this time of year than in the summer.

The National Weather Service confirmed preliminary tornado damage in Washington County, with winds of 166 to 200 miles per hour.

Nancy Rampy, 62, said she fled to her basement when she heard the storm sirens go off on Sunday.

“It got real calm and I knew that was bad because I’ve been in a tornado before,” Ms Rampy said. “And then I heard what sounded like 12 trains, just roaring down the tracks, and it just wouldn’t stop.

“It just kept coming and coming. I ran to the basement, sat in the basement with my flashlight in the dark and just prayed let it be over soon.”

Politician Aaron Schock, a Republican whose district includes Washington, said there is an area where almost nothing has been left standing.

“It looks like someone vacuumed up the neighbourhood.”

“The good news is the tornado warning system worked, so there wasn’t a lot of loss of life,” Mr Schock said.