WASHINGTON, Ill. — Residents of a small central Illinois city hit by a powerful tornado were allowed back to comb through the wreckage of their homes for personal belongings on Tuesday, two days after the deadly storm caused an estimated $1 billion in property damage across the Midwest.
Authorities doubled to 1,000 their estimate of homes damaged or destroyed in the fast-moving storm that hit Washington, a town of 15,000 and located 145 miles southwest of Chicago.
The storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that tore through the Midwestern United States, killing at least six people in Illinois and two people in Michigan.
Hundreds of Washington residents were cleaning out belongings and loading things onto trucks Tuesday, while the sound of chainsaws cut through fallen trees.
Dick Bowers was looking through the remains of his son’s destroyed home for a filing cabinet filled with personal papers.
“My daughter-in-law lay on their two-month-old baby, and my son lay on them,” Bowers said. “I’m amazed they made it out alive.”
Early damage estimates suggest that the property damage caused by the storm could reach $1 billion, with the greatest toll in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri, according to Risk Management Solutions, a Newark, Calif.-based company that specializes in assessing the toll of storms and other disasters.
“Sunday’s big tornado outbreak is yet another atypical storm of what has been an unusual 2013 severe weather season,” said Matthew Nielsen, a meteorologist with RMS. He noted that prior to Sunday’s outbreak, the United States had seen its fewest tornadoes since 1988.
November tornado outbreaks are relatively rare this far north — they are seen only about once every ten years in this part of the Midwest, according to Greg Carbin, meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.
Authorities in Washington said residents in destroyed areas are being allowed in Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning to retrieve belongings and put tarps over property to protect it from further damage. Rain is expected Wednesday.
“We want to allow them to get in, get personal items and get out,” said Tim Gleason, city administrator.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier asked volunteers to stay away for now to let people into their homes. But the town will need help going forward.
“We’re going to be here for quite a while, and we’re going to need assistance,” Manier said. “So please don’t forget about us.” He said the town has had offers of help from as far off as Italy and the Philippines.
The Washington area had 45,000 customers without electricity right after the storm — the count is now down to 5,500, power company Ameren Corp spokesman Craig Gilson said. The plan was to have all power restored by Wednesday evening.
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Tuesday added six counties to the state’s declared disaster areas, expanding the total to 13. Quinn said hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people were without power and numerous roads throughout the state have been closed by fallen trees and downed power lines.
Of the six people killed in Illinois, authorities said one died in Washington, which was hit by winds of 166 to 200 mph.
“When you’re fortunate, you do all you can,” 52-year-old Cay Ernst said while helping a friend whose house had been badly damaged look for a prized ring on Monday afternoon.
At least three people were killed in Brookport, Ill., a town of about 1,000 people on the border with Kentucky just north of Paducah, where a tornado with winds up to 145 mph destroyed dozens of mobile homes and damaged dozens of houses, garages, storage buildings, businesses and other structures.
In central Michigan, rescue workers found the body of a 59-year-old man entangled in downed power lines on Sunday night. A 21-year-old man was killed that night when a tree fell on his car in the central Michigan town of Leslie.
Tornadoes also caused major damage in Indiana and lesser damage in Ohio, according to the National Weather Service. A dozen tornadoes struck Indiana, according to a preliminary weather service damage estimate.