Thousands Homeless as Midwest Reels From Tornadoes

6 dead as damage from scores of twisters still being assessed

By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 18, 2013 3:29 AM CST | Updated Nov 18, 2013 7:57 AM CST

(Newser) – The extent of destruction is still unknown after scores of tornadoes ripped through the Midwest yesterday, killing at least six people and decimating entire neighborhoods in the hardest-hit towns in Illinois. The National Weather Service says the tornadoes were spawned by an unusually strong and fast-moving storm system that moved east this morning after hitting 12 Midwestern states. A look at the latest:

  • The Illinois National Guard has sent firefighters to the town of Washington, where a tornado ripped a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of town to the other, the AP reports. Whole blocks were destroyed and dozens of people were injured in the town of 16,000, which lies about 140 miles south of Chicago.

  • It's not clear just how many tornadoes were involved in the destruction, which lasted around five hours. The National Weather Service has reports of 81 tornadoes, mostly in Illinois, but some may have been counted twice.
  • Hundreds of thousands have been left without power in states including Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, reports CNN. The American Red Cross has set up emergency shelters for thousands of people made homeless by the storms, and teams have begun the search for people who may be trapped in debris.
  • A possible tornado hit a uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky., damaging one building, reports the AP. But a spokesman said that there no was no sign of "radiological or hazardous material releases."
  • The late-season severe weather was caused by winter jet streams hitting unusually warm air, experts say. "You've got wintertime winds in the atmosphere above summertime moisture," a National Weather Service meteorologist tells the Chicago Tribune. "While unusual, when that happens, you're going to have very strong storms that move very quickly."
  • Amid the destruction, neighbors are helping neighbors, the New York Times finds. A central Illinois man says his niece and her family were at church when a tornado completely destroyed their farm, tossing their trucks around like toys. But soon after the storm passed, neighbors arrived to help the family find their belongings in the ruins. "You get that in the heartland for sure," he says. "There were probably 100 people there to help—it was just amazing."
Click for the AP's state-by-state breakdown of damage.

A fire truck and other vehicles lineup near what was left of  Curt Zehr’s home about a mile northeast of Washington, Ill.
A fire truck and other vehicles lineup near what was left of Curt Zehr’s home about a mile northeast of Washington, Ill.   (AP Photo/David Mercer)
Paul Tubbs of Washington, Ill., looks over the remains of his home on Devon Lane in Washington.
Paul Tubbs of Washington, Ill., looks over the remains of his home on Devon Lane in Washington.   (AP Photo/Peoria Journal Star, Ron Johnson)
A neighborhood in Washington, Ill., is left in ruins after a tornado tore through the northern part of the town on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.
A neighborhood in Washington, Ill., is left in ruins after a tornado tore through the northern part of the town on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.   (AP Photo/Peoria Journal Star, Ron Johnson)
A resident of Washington, Ill., surveys the damage to her home after a tornado and storms swept through town on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2013.
A resident of Washington, Ill., surveys the damage to her home after a tornado and storms swept through town on Sunday, Oct. 17, 2013.   (AP Photo/Peoria Journal Star, Ron Johnson)
Residents embrace after their home was destroyed when a tornado tore through Washington, Ill., on Sunday, Nov.17, 2013.
Residents embrace after their home was destroyed when a tornado tore through Washington, Ill., on Sunday, Nov.17, 2013.   (AP Photo/Peoria Journal Star, Ron Johnson)
A news cameraman shoots video of the rubble of an auto parts store destroyed by a tornado in Washington, Ill., on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.
A news cameraman shoots video of the rubble of an auto parts store destroyed by a tornado in Washington, Ill., on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.   (AP Photo/David Mercer)
East Peoria resident Billy Vestal evacuates with his daughter, Lillian, 3, after a tornado hit East Peoria, Il.,Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.
East Peoria resident Billy Vestal evacuates with his daughter, Lillian, 3, after a tornado hit East Peoria, Il.,Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013.   (AP Photo/Journal Star, Justin Wan)
Demolished homes and vehicles in the Devonshire Subdivision in Washington, Ill. yesterday.
Demolished homes and vehicles in the Devonshire Subdivision in Washington, Ill. yesterday.   (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Steve Smedley)
A homeowner moves debris next to a set of stairs that once led to the second floor of his home in Washington, Ill.
A homeowner moves debris next to a set of stairs that once led to the second floor of his home in Washington, Ill.   (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Steve Smedley)
Richard Miller of Washington, Illinois salvages items from his brother's home.
Richard Miller of Washington, Illinois salvages items from his brother's home.   (AP Photo/The Pantagraph, Steve Smedley)
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