November 17, 2013 - 7:29 PM
CHICAGO — Intense thunderstorms and tornadoes swept across the Midwest on Sunday, causing extensive damage in several central Illinois communities while sending people to their basements for shelter and even prompting officials at Soldier Field in Chicago to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears game.
The community of Washington in central Illinois appeared particularly hard-hit, with one resident saying his neighborhood was wiped out in a matter of seconds.
“I stepped outside and I heard it coming. My daughter was already in the basement, so I ran downstairs and grabbed her, crouched in the laundry room and all of a sudden I could see daylight up the stairway and my house was gone,” said Michael Perdun in an interview Sunday afternoon with The Associated Press on his cellphone. “The whole neighborhood’s gone, (and) the wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house.”
In addition, WLS-TV reported that a local grocery store kept customers and workers safe from harm in a freezer during the worst of the storm, a Washington alderman told Chicago’s WBBM Radio that there were “quite a few people hurt” but didn’t offer details. The damage, he said, was extensive.
“I went over there immediately after the tornado, walking through the neighborhoods, and I couldn’t even tell what street I was on,” said Alderman Tyler Gee. “Just completely flattened — some of the neighborhoods here in town, hundreds of homes.”
Meanwhile, a state official said emergency crews were racing to the area amid reports that people had been trapped in collapsed buildings. But communications were spotty — many calls made by to the area by the AP could not be completed — and Patti Thompson of the Illinois Department of Emergency Management said it was difficult to get information from the scene.
About 90 minutes after the tornado destroyed homes in Washington, the storm darkened downtown Chicago. As the rain and high winds slammed into the area, officials at Soldier Field evacuated the stands and ordered the Bears and Baltimore Ravens off the field. Fans were allowed back to their seats shortly after 2 p.m.
Earlier, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications issued a warning to fans, urging them “to take extra precautions and ... appropriate measures to ensure their personal safety.”
The storm followed warnings by the National Weather Service of what was coming and that the storm was simply moving too fast for people to wait until they saw it to get ready.
“Our primary message is this is a dangerous weathers system that has the potential to be extremely deadly and destructive,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Get ready now.”
Weather service officials confirmed that a tornado touched down just before 11 a.m. near the central Illinois community of East Peoria, about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, but authorities did not immediately have damage or injury reports. Within an hour, the weather service said that tornadoes had touched down in Washington, Metamora, Morton and other central Illinois communities, though officials could not say whether it was one tornado touching down or several.
News from © The Associated Press, 2013