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Violent storms sweep across Midwest, killing 8

By Don Babwin

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 17 2013 12:00 a.m. MST

A tornado left a path of devastation through the north end of Pekin, Il.,Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013. 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.

Fred Zwicky, Associated Press

WASHINGTON, Ill. — As a powerful tornado bore down on their Illinois farmhouse, Curt Zehr's wife and adult son didn't have time to do anything but scramble into their basement.

Uninjured, the pair looked out moments later to find the house gone. Their home on the outskirts of Washington, Ill., was destroyed Sunday by one of the dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms that swept across the Midwest in a swift-moving line of violent weather that killed at least eight people and unleashed powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees.

"They saw (the tornado) right there and got in the basement," said a stunned Zehr, pointing to the farm field near the rubble that had been his home.

Washington Mayor Gary Manier estimated that 250 to 500 homes had been damaged or destroyed. It wasn't clear when residents would be allowed to return.

"Everybody's without power, but some people are without everything," Manier told reporters in the parking lot of a destroyed auto parts store and near a row of flattened homes.

"How people survived is beyond me," he said.

The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.

Illinois was the hardest hit, with at least six people killed and dozens more injured. Authorities said Monday that two other deaths occurred in Michigan.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn promised all the assistance the state could provide to victims of what he said were the deadliest November tornadoes in state history.

"We're all in this together," Quinn said.

The governor and others said the search for anybody trapped in the rubble continued, but officials doubted that the death toll would climb. Illinois Emergency Management Agency Director Jonathon Monken said rescuers had just one field left to search in Washington before they can say with confidence that everyone has been accounted for.

The six people who died in Illinois included an 80-year-old man and his 78-year-old sister who were killed by a twister that hit their farmhouse near the rural community of New Minden. A third person died in Washington, while three others perished in Massac County in the far southern part of the state, authorities said.

One of the Massac County victims was identified as 63-year-old Scholitta Burrus of Brookport, Ill.

"They found her over there buried amid the destruction," McCracken County Deputy Coroner Ryan Johnston said.

Moments before the tornado struck his home in Washington, Jim Svymbersky went into his basement to retrieve his weather radio — a simple act that may have spared his life.

"Saved by a weather radio," he said Monday outside a supply store where he was picking up plywood to board up blown-out windows.

Washington, a town of 16,000 about 140 miles southwest of Chicago, appeared to have suffered the most severe damage. The tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of town to the other, state trooper Dustin Pierce said.

Of the roughly 200 people who were injured, 120 of them were in Washington when the tornado struck, officials said.

Across farm fields a little more than a mile from where Zehr's home once stood, several blocks of homes were destroyed.

"The whole neighborhood's gone. The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house," said Michael Perdun, speaking by cellphone.

The Illinois National Guard assisted with search-and-recovery operations in Washington.

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