Large tornado causes significant damage in central Illinois

Associated Press

ROCHELLE, Ill. (AP) - At least one large tornado touched down Thursday night in central Illinois, causing significant damage and prompting reports of more than a dozen people rescued from a collapsed restaurant.

The National Weather Service confirmed the tornado was on the ground and on Twitter urged residents to "seek shelter immediately if in the path of this dangerous storm."

An Illinois sheriff's dispatcher who declined to give her name due to department policy said there was widespread damage but no immediate reports of injuries when the tornado swept across the town of Hillcrest, about 80 miles west of Chicago.

Robin Biggs, an employee at the Super 8 motel in nearby Rochelle, said she took video of the storm, which she said "took everything out in its path."

"I have lived her 18 years and I have never seen a tornado that big or stay on the ground that long," she said. "What we have is a small one touching the ground and going right back up, but this just stayed down and went all the way across the horizon."

Koleen Kessen, who works at the Comfort Inn & Suites in Rochelle, said she went outside and spotted the tornado a few miles away after hearing sirens. She said hotel guests told her the tornado leveled a restaurant.

The Daily Chronicle in DeKalb, citing fire officials, reported that 14 people who had been trapped inside Grubsteakers restaurant in Rochelle had since been rescued. The newspaper reported the restaurant collapsed during the storm. No further details were immediately available.

Winnebago County Sheriff's spokesman Ken DeCoster said funnel clouds also were spotted near Rockford a few miles north but did not touch down. However, television footage showed multiple homes damaged in the unincorporated community of Fairdale.

The system, packing hail and damaging winds, was headed east as storms rumbled through the Midwest and Plains during the region's first widespread bout of severe weather.

The severe weather forced the cancellation of more than 850 flights at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and dozens of others at the city's Midway International Airport.

The Weather Service in Davenport, Iowa, said it had received multiple reports of tornadoes in Scott and Clinton counties in the far eastern part of the state. At least one tornado had touched down earlier Thursday evening in rural Donahue, about 15 miles north of Davenport. The Weather Service had no reports of injuries from those storms.

Minor injuries were reported Thursday in central Missouri when storms toppled trees, utility poles and billboards.

The National Weather Service's "enhanced risk" area stretched from northeast Texas to Michigan, Wisconsin and across the upper Midwest. Forecasters say Philadelphia, Washington and other parts of the Atlantic coast could see the same weather patterns Friday, including Augusta, Georgia, where the Masters golf tournament is taking place through the weekend.

"It's quite an expansive area," said Greg Carbin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

In central Indiana, a 75-year-old woman died Wednesday night after being swept into a rain-swollen creek near Indianapolis. Pittsboro Fire Chief Bill Zeunik said the woman, identified as Doris D. Martin, was clearing debris from a water-filled ditch in her front yard along with her husband when she fell in and was swept away into a drainage pipe. Martin's body was found in a creek nearly a mile away.

In Wisconsin, an interstate north of Milwaukee was closed for several hours Thursday morning after several vehicles became partially submerged in flood water due to heavy rain.

And in Michigan, lightning strikes caused a fire at a mobile home and a fire place explosion, according to authorities. No one was injured in either incident.

By mid-afternoon, temperatures in downtown St. Louis topped 80 degrees under bright sunshine. The balmy burst arrived in stark contrast to temperatures in parts of the northeast; freezing drizzle in New Hampshire delayed some school openings and more than 2 inches of snow postponed the first game of the season for the Portland Sea Dogs in Portland, Maine.


Associated Press writers Don Babwin and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.

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