As Zehr worked with about 75 friends and neighbors to try to salvage anything from his home — dining room chairs and other odds and ends — he said he’d been at church while his wife, Sue, and son were at home when the tornado hit. They had homeowners’ insurance, which he said he hoped was good.
“We’re about to find out,” he said.
A friend, Keith Noe, said the Zehr family still felt fortunate.
“They both walked out of the basement and that’s what counts,” Noe said.
Across Washington, an auto parts store with several people inside was reduced to a pile of bricks, metal and rebar; a battered car, its windshield impaled by a piece of lumber, was flung alongside it.
“The employees were climbing out of this,” Pierce said, gesturing to the rubble behind him. None of them was seriously injured, he said.
At OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in nearby Peoria, spokeswoman Amy Paul said 37 patients had been treated, eight with injuries ranging from broken bones to head injuries. Another hospital, Methodist Medical Center in Peoria, treated more than a dozen, but officials there said none of them were seriously injured.
About 90 minutes after the tornado destroyed homes in Washington, the stormy weather darkened downtown Chicago. As the rain and high winds slammed into the area, officials at Soldier Field evacuated the stands and ordered the Bears and Baltimore Ravens off the field. Fans were allowed back to their seats shortly after 2 p.m., and the game resumed after about a two-hour delay.
Earlier, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications had issued a warning to fans, urging them “to take extra precautions and … appropriate measures to ensure their personal safety.”
Just how many tornadoes hit was unclear. Although about 80 reports of tornadoes had come in as of Sunday night, the National Weather Service’s Bunting said the actual number will likely be in the 30 to 40 range. He said that’s because the same tornado often gets reported multiple times.
The White House issued a statement saying President Barack Obama had been briefed about the damage and was in touch with federal, state and local officials.
Weather service meteorologist Matt Friedlein said that such strong storms are rare this late in the year because there usually isn’t enough heat from the sun to sustain the thunderstorms. But he said temperatures Sunday were expected to reach into the 60s and 70s, which he said is warm enough to help produce severe weather when it is coupled with winds, which are typically stronger this time of year than in the summer.
“You don’t need temperatures in the 80s and 90s to produce severe weather (because) the strong winds compensate for the lack of heating,” Friedlein said. “That sets the stage for what we call wind shear, which may produce tornadoes.”