Official tornado count: 14 twisters hit during devastating Midwest storm

No fewer than 14 tornadoes struck Illinois and northwest Indiana during Sunday's violent storm, according to the National Weather Service's count. The strongest was an EF-4. 

Jeff Haynes/Reuters
Residents look at what is left of their home after it was destroyed by a tornado in Washington, Illinois, November 19, 2013.

The final tornado count is in for Sunday's calamitous storm system: No fewer than 14 twisters struck Illinois and northwest Indiana, damaging almost 700 homes and killing eight people.

That official assessment comes from the National Weather Service, whose post-storm survey teams determined that the strongest tornadoes hit Washington, Ill., just outside Peoria. There, winds hit 190 miles per hour, a category EF-4 tornado (EF-5 is the strongest measure there is), leveling hundreds of homes across a stretch of 46 miles through Tazewell and Woodford counties.

Between 250 and 500 homes were destroyed in Washington, says Sara Parkman, public information officer for Tazewell County Emergency Management Agency. A more exact number is expected after assessment mapping is complete Wednesday afternoon. Between 60 and 80 homes in East Peoria and 100 homes in Pekin, Ill., are declared uninhabitable, Ms. Parkman says,and many more homes are damaged.

Only residents are allowed into the damaged areas to salvage whatever items they can. Those who are displaced are staying in an American Red Cross shelter set up at Crossroads Church in Washington; others are at nearby hotels or with family and friends.

Because damage assessments are still under way, volunteers are not being solicited at this time.

“We have a lot of people who have volunteered locally, but we just don't have that many volunteer positions right now. That's going to change,” said Red Cross spokeswoman Erin Miller.

Food banks are set up in Washington and nearby towns, and a local bank is establishing a special fund for donations that will be dispersed to displaced families.

After the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) establishes the number and condition of homes damaged, the state will request aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Tazewell is one of 13 counties to be declared state disaster areas. 

 “Yesterday I saw first-hand the devastation caused by these deadly storms, said Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (D), who toured some of the damaged areas, in a statement released Tuesday. "While the recovery will be long and hard, we will work in the coming days, weeks and months to assist these communities and help the people who live there rebuild their lives.” 

According to the Peoria Journal Star, IEMA Director Jonathan Monken said President Obama phoned him Monday and said “that he’s put everything in place that he can, federally.” 

“He asked how I was holding up. I said, ‘This was not something I signed up for.’ The president replied, ‘That's how you find out who the leaders are,’ ” Mr. Monken said.

Parkman says counties abutting Tazewell County have received assistance from local law enforcement and emergency management agencies throughout the state, as well as from nonprofit agencies and chambers of commerce that have partnered to raise funds and solicit donations. “It’s just amazing the people who have been wanting to help,” she says.

One group, the First Response Team of America, a Pennsylvania organization that works in disaster areas with equipment donated by Caterpillar Inc., arrived Monday, according to its Facebook page. The organization says that in the early hours of removing rubble, it discovered a cat, Bacchus, who had been living under the debris for at least 24 hours.

Lindsay Dubois, the cat’s owner, said Bacchus is the second of two cats rescued amid the devastation. “They both seem perfectly OK. Totally scared, but they don’t seem to have any major injuries,” she said.

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