Tornado outbreak brings late-fall terror to Midwest
At least six people were killed and dozens more hurt when an unusual November tornado outbreak hopscotched through the Midwest on Sunday, leaving destruction in its wake.
Twisters and thunderstorms more reminiscent of spring than fall savaged communities in Illinois, Missouri, Indiana and Kentucky with punishing winds and heavy hail. Survivors poured into hospitals with broken limbs and other wounds from flying debris.
An NFL game at Soldier Field in Chicago had to be suspended as football fans evacuated to the concourses, taking shelter from a line of storms. The stadium was spared, and the game between the Chicago Bears and the Baltimore Ravens resumed after a nearly two-hour delay.
Elsewhere, the unseasonable twisters seemed to collect victims at random.
There were 80-year-old Joseph Hoy and his sister Francis, 78, whose bodies were found in a field about 100 yards east of his Washington County farmhouse in Illinois, where he raised exotic animals. Officials said the siblings had taken shelter in the house.
Then there was the Memphis, Tenn., punk rock band Pillow Talk, packed into a GMC Suburban on an interstate almost 200 miles north, just east of Peoria, Ill. The tornado arrived looking almost like a mist, band members said, then violently spun their vehicle around three full times, slashing their faces with broken glass.
“I accepted the fact I was about to die,” said Joshua Cannon, 21. “I looked at my best friend that I’ve been playing music with [my entire life], and we were like, ‘OK, guys, this is it.’”
But they survived largely unharmed, saying in an interview that they suspected all the amps and instruments in their trailer helped anchor them to the ground.
“We don’t even understand the odds that we’re all alive right now,” added Calvin Labeur, 19, who had been driving. He said he never let go of the steering wheel because he felt responsible for his friends.
The storms knocked out cell towers and made it impossible to form an exact accounting of the damages and casualties by nightfall.
In the communities of Washington and Pekin, Ill., about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, at least one person was killed and 37 injured as a twister destroyed entire blocks of homes, leaving a small sea of broken wood and insulation reminiscent of larger tornado disasters in Joplin, Mo., and Moore, Okla.
Jeff Siltman was blowing leaves outside his home in Washington when he heard a roar coming right for him. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a funnel cloud dropping from the sky.
Siltman screamed for his family — including five children — to head for the basement as the sound of shattering glass filled their home. When they emerged, the house was leveled, but they had all survived.
Siltman considers himself lucky: Everything ruined was replaceable, he said outside a makeshift help center at a church, a few blocks from the remnants of his home.
Theresa Vancil, 41, of Pekin watched the funnel form through the window of her eighth-floor room at Pekin Hospital, where she was in labor with her fifth child. She got an alert on her phone: tornado.
New mothers and babies soon flooded the halls of the maternity ward, and Vancil shot a video with her cellphone.
She had considered naming her baby Winter, but now thinks Dorothy might be more appropriate. “The Wizard of Oz” is one of her favorite movies.
“We could call her Dotty for short,” Vancil said.
The twisters and thunderstorms kept moving, with power outages reported as far north as Detroit.
In Kokomo, Ind., the wind picked up a patio table and drove it legs-first into the wall of a business, leaving it hanging like a sideways chandelier, according to images circulating on social media.
Fifty miles southwest, in Lebanon, Ind., the winds knocked over the walls of a bank as if they were cardboard instead of brick, police said.
The storms brought an array of chaos that a National Weather Service meteorologist called rare but not unheard of.
“This is more like April, May,” weather service meteorologist Dan Smith said. “The speed at which the storms were moving ... anybody that’s in the path of those, you’d get a warning, but you didn’t have a lot of time to react.”
One twister’s path included the little riverside community of Brookport, Ill., where a tornado made what officials called a “direct hit” on two trailer parks containing at least 50 mobile homes.
At least two people were reported dead in Brookport, which is separated from busier Paducah, Ky., by the Ohio River. Storm victims made their way across the river, with at least 10 people arriving at Baptist Health Paducah for treatment.
Emergency medical responders tried to revive one woman as they drove her across the river, to no avail, said McCracken County, Ky., Deputy Coroner Ryan Johnston.
They got her to Paducah, he said, but she didn’t survive.
Pearce reported from Los Angeles, Sadovi and Manchir from Illinois. The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.
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