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Disasters declared in seven Illinois counties after rare, late-season storms

November 18, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: They searched for victims and tallied the damage today, after a barrage of tornadoes hit the Midwest on Sunday. At least eight people were killed, and scores more were hurt. The most powerful storm cut a path roughly an eighth-of-a-mile-wide, clear across one Illinois town of 16,000 people.

Terrified townspeople watched and prayed as the giant funnel ripped through Washington, Illinois, Sunday. Winds of almost 200 miles per hour tore at trees and blasted homes to bits.

MAN: This is what my house looks like after a tornado came through.

GWEN IFILL: In a matter of minutes, it was all over. Then, residents surveyed the damage, up to 500 homes damaged or destroyed and cars crushed into mangled metal.

Today, an emotional Mayor Gary Manier vowed, his town will recover.

GARY MANIER, mayor of Washington, Ill.: That is what this community is about. We love our neighbors, and we’re going to bounce back from this. And I want to thank the surrounding communities that have reached out in droves of people. We looked like a parking lot last night, so many people trying to get into our community to help us. And we had to finally shut the community down and say, no more. We can’t have any more help.

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GWEN IFILL: Deadly storms from the same weather front raged across the Midwest throughout the day on Sunday, pulling trees out of the ground and flipping cars.

DAVID FRAWLEY, tornado survivor: It’s hard. I couldn’t even walk out here last night. I kept wanting to be inside. You kind of get like a little depression mode. So I don’t have that drive just of yet to, let’s go and rebuild again.

GWEN IFILL: Illinois Governor Pat Quinn ultimately declared disasters in seven counties. He too visited the town of Washington today.

GOV. PAT QUINN, D-Ill.: It’s very, very important that at this time, we finish our search-and-rescue efforts all across our state to make sure there is no one in harm’s away. But, upon completion of that, our mission now is to recover. And we will recover. We will prevail over these — these tornadoes.

GWEN IFILL: In addition to Illinois, twisters and damaging winds hit a dozen states. In this image from the National Weather Service, red dots symbolize more than 80 tornado reports across the region. The blue dots stand for high winds from thunderstorms.

Those storms knocked down power lines in town after town, and 800,000 homes and businesses were still in the dark this morning. Forecasters have sounded an early alert, but it was still highly unusual to see that many storms with that much power this late in the year. With winter quickly approaching, the focus is now on cleaning up and making neighborhoods livable, as the mayor of Washington pointed out.

GARY MANIER: The unfortunate thing is, this thing hit in November. November is not the construction season that we build homes in this part of our state and part of our country. So it’s going to be a longer process than if it happened in March.

GWEN IFILL: For now, though, police are keeping people out of the worst-hit areas until they are declared safe.