Intense thunderstorms and tornadoes swept across the Midwest today, causing extensive damage in several central Illinois communities and killing five, officials confirmed. Among the deaths: An elderly man and his sister who died when a tornado struck their farm house in southern Illinois' Washington County. The tornadoes sent people scrambling for shelter and prompted officials at Chicago's Soldier Field to evacuate the stands and delay the Bears pro football game. (They eventually won.) The community of Washington in central Illinois appeared particularly hard-hit, with one resident saying his neighborhood was wiped out in a matter of seconds by what appeared to be a tornado. "The whole neighborhood's gone, the wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house," he said.
By mid-afternoon it remained unclear how many people were hurt. In a news release, the Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched firefighters and vehicles to Washington to assist with "immediate search and recovery operations in the tornado damaged area." According to weather service officials, parts of Illinois, Indiana, southern Michigan, and western Ohio were at the greatest risk of seeing tornadoes, large hail and damaging winds throughout the day, before the storm system pushed into the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states this evening. (Read more severe weather stories.)