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
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)
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(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. (Read more tornado stories.)

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