Cellphone video captures a twister touching down in a central Illinois neighborhood.
By Henry Austin and Jeff Black, NBC News
People across the Midwest picked through the remains of their homes Monday after a storm system swept across six states, spawned more than 80 reported tornadoes and killed at least eight people.
Authorities in Illinois went door to door to search for people trapped in houses. The storm system tore the steeple off a church 10 minutes after Mass let out and forced the Chicago Bears to stop their game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Fred Zwicky / Journal Star via AP
Chuck Phillips looks out at the destruction that tore off part of his roof and left houses around him destroyed after a tornado left a path of devastation through the north end of Pekin, Ill.
“Nobody has anything left,” Nancy Rampy, of the devastated city of Washington, Ill., told NBC Chicago. “It’s all gone. It’s just awful.”
“I’ve found pieces of my house 100 yards northeast of me,” Scott Gundy, another resident of Washington, where one person died, told TODAY.
“I got the most important things out, which were pictures, video of my kids growing up,” he said. “To me that’s the most important thing. Everything else can be replaced.”
The mayor of Washington, Gary Manier, said the devastation there was “unbelievable.” He said that 250 to 500 houses were destroyed in Washington, a city of about 15,000 people.
The National Weather Service rated the tornado that ripped through the area an EF-4 — a notch down from most intense rating — with wind speeds ranging from 170 to 190 mph.
Ryan Bowers told NBC Chicago that he, his wife and their 3-month-old daughter took shelter in the basement of their Washington home. The couple used their bodies to cover their baby and protect her from falling debris.
“Things were dropping on top of me and splitting in two, like the part of the wall, I think,” Bowers said. “We crawled out and looked around, couldn’t believe it.”
Bowers said they were all unharmed , and that his wife and daughter even fell sleep during the storm.
Schools were closed in Washington on Monday, and churches and community groups also canceled events as the focused turned on recovery efforts and helping victims.
The Red Cross opened a shelter, and mental health experts were on hand. People who had left and were trying to come back were turned away by police because of concerns about unstable buildings.
“I know it’s frustrating for people,” Manier said. “I’d be frustrated. I’d want to be looking for pictures.”
Authorities warned of dangers lurking in the debris.
“There’s a lot of power lines down a lot of power lines that could still be alive. There’s gas leaks all over the place. So it is still a very dangerous situation,” Illinois State Trooper Dustin Pierce told NBC station WEEK TV.
The National Weather Service said there were 81 reported tornadoes from the system on Sunday. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared seven counties disaster areas. He said that dozens of people were hurt.
Further south in New Minden, Ill., the Rev. Timothy Mueller of St. John’s Lutheran Church told TODAY that a twister ripped the steeple off his church just 10 minutes after Mass.
Steve Smedley / AP
A storm system spun off multiple tornadoes killing several people and flattening an entire neighborhood.
“This has been rebuilt twice before in storms like this and, Lord willing, we’ll be able to rebuild again,” he said.
On Monday afternoon, the first victim from the storm was identified as 51-year-old Steve Neubauer, whose body was found near his home in Washington, Tazewell County Coroner Dr. James J. Baldi said in a statement. The coroner did not offer details. An autopsy was scheduled for late Monday.
Also among the dead were an 80-year-old man and his 78-year-old sister in Nashville, Ill., authorities said. Two people were killed in Brookport, near the Kentucky line, where police with dogs were doing door to door and a dusk-to-dawn curfew was in place.
One person was killed in Unionville, Ill., authorities said.
Two men died in Michigan. A 21-year-old was found dead in his vehicle, the car’s roof caved in, in Jackson County. A 59-year-old was found entangled in high-voltage power lines near his home in Perry, Mich.
The unusually large and fast-moving system forced the Chicago Bears to halt their game against the Baltimore Ravens and NFL fans at Soldier Field to run for shelter as menacing clouds rolled in.
Chicago’s two major airports briefly stopped traffic while the metropolitan area was under a tornado watch.
Besides the reported tornadoes, there were 358 reports of damaging wind and 40 reports of large hail, said Rich Thompson, a lead forecaster with the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.
The storm weakened as it headed toward the Northeast, said Kevin Noth, lead meteorologist at The Weather Channel.
As communities sought to recover from the deadly storm, many remained optimistic.
“We’ll get through this because we all stand together,” Washington’s Rampy said.
NBC News’ M. Alex Johnson, Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Mon Nov 18, 2013 5:15 AM EST