The governor today declared a state disaster as National Guardsmen and fire officials searched a muddy cornfield for more victims of tornadoes that flattened scores of homes and killed at least 24 people.
The dead included at least nine people found near a demolished apartment complex where six residents are missing, Lockport Fire Chief Dave Martis said.
At least 306 people were treated at hospitals after the cluster of tornadoes touched down in four spots Tuesday afternoon, cutting an eight-mile swath of destruction leading to the northern Illinois city of Joliet. At least 11 people were listed in critical condition today.
In nearby Plainfield, residents began returning to the rubble of their homes.
“It was like an eggbeater went through the inside of the house,” said 41-year-old Bruce Marshall as he tried to fashion a makeshift cover for his roofless home.
Gov. James R. Thompson declared Will County a state disaster area, and requested that President Bush declare the area a federal disaster to provide additional relief.
“Nothing in my personal experience . . . compares with this,” Thompson said during a tour of Plainfield today.
Illinois Treasurer Jerry Cosentino announced that the state will provide at least $25 million for low-interest loans to tornado victims.
Preliminary tallies made in the dark from the tornadoes suggested more than 100 houses were destroyed, in addition to the apartment complex and a high school. The storms blacked out 17,000 homes and businesses, tossed trucks like toys and flattened crops.
“Cars were flying all over the place,” said Tony Aloisio, who was driving by and stopped to help. “It happened so fast that all I could do was sit there and watch. Then 15 minutes later the skies got blue like it had never even happened.”
About 30 guardsmen took up positions in the three affected communities overnight and 150 came later in the day to search for victims and provide security.
At least four people were arrested for looting, and five others were taken into custody for interfering with rescuers, authorities said.
“I saw everything out there,” said Will County Executive Charles Adelman. “Refrigerators, TV sets, washing machines, cars stacked three high.”
Plainfield High School was demolished, and some of the 175 students and teachers inside were hurt. Catastrophe was averted because coaches rushed dozens of athletes from a gym before the roof collapsed.