HARRISBURG, Ill. (KMOX) – Splintered wood everywhere, whole blocks wiped out, at least six people dead and dozens injured — as a pre-dawn EF4 tornado ripped through Harrisburg, Illinois, a town about 132 miles southeast of St. Louis.
“People look at each other, nod, make eye contact and walk away,” said Brian DeNeal, a reporter with the Harrisburg Daily Register, describing a town “dazed” by the twister.
Harrisburg authorities say they’ve accounted for everyone and outside search-and-rescue teams have been called off following the storms that hit the town around 5:00 a.m. Wednesday.
Harrisburg Medical Center CEO Vince Ashley says the hospital itself also sustained some damage in the storm that knocked out the 78-bed site’s heating and cooling system. Engineers were inspecting the facility to determine whether it is safe to house the injured, or might have to be evacuated.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg told CNN that like most of the town he was awakened by the sirens wailing some minutes before the tornado struck.
“I heard the siren go off,” Gregg said, “I immediately jumped up, turned the radios on and then I went outside and it was eerily quiet.”
Gregg says the tornado hit an apartment complex and kept going.
“It took out several apartments and then took out several homes and demolished everything in its path,” Gregg said, “We’ve got homes and semis toppled, cars thrown in lakes.”
Reporter DeNeal says the wide storm path flattened entire blocks.
“We have houses now that are nothing but rubble over at least a two block area,” DeNeal said.
As the sun rose on the aftermath, rescue workers searched for people trapped and found the injured lying on the ground.
“At least one man was tapped and rescued and taken to the hospital,” DeNeal said, “There were several people laying in fields injured.”
Damage is being reported in both Saline and Gallatin counties, and classes at Harrisburg schools have been canceled.
Gov. Pat Quinn has activated the State Emergency Operations Center. He plans to survey the storm damage later today. Quinn says he is “committed to do everything possible” to help communities recover from the storms.
Patti Thompson is spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency says specially trained rescue teams from emergency-response agencies in Charleston, Marion, St. Clair County, Springfield and Urbana were on their way to Harrisburg.
If you want to volunteer officials are asking people to call the Saline County Emergency Management Agency at (618)252-3732.
Tales of survival are now surfacing. A 61-year-old Harrisburg woman says she took shelter in her bathtub, walking away with a minor cut on her leg.
Margaret Shimkus told the associated press she was awoken by the sound of loud crashing and shattering glass. She first tried to get under her bed, but then ran to her bathtub as parts of the building blew apart.
Only the walls of her duplex were left standing. Four other apartments in her complex were destroyed.
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