Deadly Storm Leaves Path Of Destruction In Midwest

(NBC NEWS) --- Fifty three million people across the United States were in harm's way as a powerful storm system raged across the Midwest on Sunday, spawning deadly tornadoes that left a path of destruction in parts of central Illinois.

A tornado outbreak is likely to hit the Chicago area, according to the Storm Prediction Center. The possible tornadoes are part of a storm system that is also expected to bring damaging high winds. The Weather Channel's Mike Seidel and TODAY's Dylan Dreyer report.

Washington, Ill., near Peoria, was particularly hard hit with one resident saying his neighborhood was wiped out in seconds. Emergency crews were going door to door through damaged neighborhood in search of victims. 

At least one person was confirmed killed in a storm-related incident, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency reported. 

"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," Michael Perdun told The Associated Press. "The whole neighborhood's gone, (and) the wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house." 

By mid-afternoon it remained unclear precisely many people were hurt, but some 37 people were injured and taken to St. Francis Hospital in Peoria, where seven were reported to be trauma patients. In a news release, the Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with "immediate search and recovery operations in the tornado damaged area."

At NBC affiliate WEEK-TV in Peoria, newscasters had to go off the air abruptly, as they realized they themselves were in the path of the twister. According to the NWS, the station's building sustained roof damage. 

In Tazewell County, central Illinois, emergency crews were responding a tornado that flattened homes in several neighborhoods. The cities with reported damage include Washington, Perkin and East Peoria, county spokeswoman Sara Sparkman told NBC News. Pictures from Washington showed an expansive trail of wood debris from homes torn apart as the twister laid waste to one neighborhood.

East Peoria Mayor Dave Mingus said about 100 homes were damaged in his city of more than 23,000 residents, with 25 to 50 destroyed and uninhabitable.

The Red Cross was working with the county to open up shelters in the area for families whose homes were damaged. 

NBC Chicago reported that at least 10 tornadoes had touched down in the state.

At least 83,000 customers were without electrical power Sunday evening, most of those in the Peoria area, said Jonathon Moken, emergency agency spokesman.

Rescue teams are deploying to multiple areas across Illinois, focusing on the hard-hit Washington and Gifford areas, Moken said.

In Chicago, the Bears versus Baltimore Ravens game was postponed due to the weather, and the seating area at Soldier Field was evacuated, according to team officials. The game resumed at about 2:20 p.m. CDT after nearly a two-hour postponement.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn warned residents that the weather and storms across the state were "very serious."

"I urge everyone to pay attention to all weather alerts and stay home and inside if possible," Quinn said in a statement. "Driving during these severe conditions is extremely dangerous. All residents should stay off the roads until these storms and flood warnings subside."

"We obviously have a very dangerous situation on our hands and it's just getting started," Laura Furgione, deputy director of the National Weather Service, said earlier.

She added, "Get ready now." 

Parts of the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, lower-middle Mississippi Valley and Tennessee Valley were among the areas most at risk for widespread damaging winds and possible tornadoes, experts with the Weather Channel said.

Bill Bunting, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service said one tornado was already reported shortly after noon in Peoria, Ill. The National Weather Service reported that the twister was moving northeast at about 55 miles per hour.

Weather Channel severe weather expert Greg Forbes has issued TOR:CON tornado warning values as high as 9 for portions of Illinois and Indiana – meaning there is a 70 percent chance of a tornado within 90 miles of a forecast location.

The highest threat area for tornadoes will be from eastern Illinois into Indiana, southern Michigan, western Kentucky and western Ohio.

In addition to the severe storms, strong gradient winds outside of thunderstorms could gust 70-75 mph for the Great Lakes and interior Northeast into early Monday, the National Weather Service said.

Winds and hail could cause downed trees and scattered power outages, including to areas such as Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo.

Russell Schneider, a director at the National Weather Service, warned that the storm would move rapidly and might quickly progress from one location to the next.

"Fifty three million people over ten states are at severe risk," said Schneider.

"Do not wait for visual confirmation of the threat" he advised residents of the Midwest.

"People can fall into complacency because they don't see severe weather and tornadoes, but we do stress that they should keep a vigilant eye on the weather and have a means to hear a tornado warning because things can change very quickly," said Matt Friedlein, another meteorologist with the Weather Service, told The Associated Press.

The Weather Channel predicts the storm will diminish as it moves east through Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey, but high winds could reach as far as New York on Monday morning.



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