Washington IL tornado ranked as EF-4; victim ID'd

On Monday night, there are new, horrifying images of the monster tornado that left many saying prayers.
November 18, 2013 8:42:39 PM PST
Gov. Pat Quinn visited the towns hardest hit by recent tornadoes Monday, including Washington, Ill., where an EF-4 touched down. At least six people in Illinois were killed.

VIDEO: VIDEO: Washington, Illinois, tornado damage raw footage as seen from Chopper 7 HD
PHOTOS: Washington IL Tornado Damage Photos from Chopper 7HD
PHOTOS: Washington, Illinois tornado damage, suburban Chicago storm damage

EF-4 tornado in Washington, Illinois kills resident

Washington is a town of about 15,000 people, located east of Peoria. Between 250 and 500 buildings were damaged or destroyed and about 120 people were injured in Washington, where winds reached an estimated 170 to 190 miles per hour.

One tornado-related death was reported in Washington. Authorities said the body of Washington resident Steve Neubauer, 51, was found on School Street near his home. The outline of a foundation is what remains of the one-story house that once stood here, where Steve Neubauer's life came to a sudden end. He is remembered as a man who loved his family, his boat, his friends and his pets.

"Steve didn't make it down in the basement 'cause he was always worried about getting the cats, they were like his children," said Jerry McGuire, co-worker and best friend. "And when the twister bore down on their house, there just wasn't enough time for Steve to get to the basement."

Carried away with his home, they found his body across the street.

"The best guy you would ever want to know. He'd do anything for you, help you do anything," said Jerry McGuire, co-worker and best friend.

There wasn't much time to react to this horrible storm, and the home collapsed around him.

"Beth was down at the bottom of the stairs and she was looking up at Steve and it just all went away. . . You gotta be here for him, it was cut too short for him," said McGuire.

Steve's brother Craig is too distraught to talk about his 51-year old brother on camera. They were very close, and the family resemblance is striking. Steve's friends and co-workers from the construction company are gathered here to console and to clean up what they can, which isn't much.

"Great guy, great mechanic, loved boating, loved racing, loved his wife," said Bruce Tesdall, co-worker.

Washington residents tell stories of survival, survey destruction

On Monday night, there are new, horrifying images of the monster tornado that left many saying prayers. These were sturdy homes made of cinder block and wood. Imagine that debris raining down on you in the basement. On Monday night, Eyewitness News spoke with a man who survived such an ordeal and crawled out of the rubble despite a broken back and shoulder.

"It was about five houses wide. And we were smack dab in the middle," said Joey Davidson, tornado survivor.

Joey Davidson's house was flattened in a matter of seconds.

From his hospital bed, Davidson described how he fractured his vertebra and shoulder. As he and his family huddled in their basement: "We heard the roof go. We heard the top floor go of our three story house. And then, utter chaos. Just blocks, cinder blocks," Joey Davidson said.

"As long as I had a hold of my kids. They were underneath me. And just making sure they didn't get sucked away or hit by more. As long as I could hear them crying, I knew they were okay," said Ashley Davidson, wife.

Despite his injuries, Davidson freed himself from beneath a mountain of debris, motivated by the sound of his two screaming children.

"The only thing running through my mind was I don't care how injured I am. Adrenaline took over. It was I don't care how heavy these objects are," said Joey Davidson.

Together, the family crawled to safety, with only Davidson needing treatment at Methodist Hospital in Peoria.

Late Monday night, Joey Davidson left the hospital, a long road of physical therapy for his back and shoulder ahead of him. But like so many here amidst the rubble, he's grateful he survived.

On Monday afternoon, media needed a police escort to drive into Washington, Illinois. In every direction, as far as the eye can see, is destruction.

The mayor of Washington said many residents were in church when the tornado touched down.

At First Baptist Church in Washington, Pastor Joshua Monda had a full house for Sunday services.

"I had just started my sermon when one of my member's cell phones alerted us to a tornado in our area," said Pastor Joshua Monda, First Baptist Church.

Pastor Joshua Monda shepherded his flock into the church basement, and then recorded video on his cell phone.

"Everybody inside! It's on the ground guys!" said a woman on the cell phone video.

The tornado missed the church, and its members sprang into action. What they found was a town torn apart, and an entire subdivision flattened.

"It was just crazy to see your hometown destroyed like this," said Collin Rogers, Washington, Ill. resident.

We came across Collin Rogers and some friends searching what was his in-laws home. What they're searching for is a bit unclear.

Eyewitness News reporter Ben Bradley asks: "How do you even begin to know what to take and what to leave?
Rogers: "We're taking a lot of pictures and a lot of sentimental things that could mean something to the family. Valuables. But there's not a lot left."

A bit further into what was a solidly built subdivision of nice homes, we found Tomaz Fleury.

"This blue bag is my friend's house, this is my house," said Tomaz Fleury, Washington, Ill. resident.

The salvageable possessions of an entire house, contained in one bag. Repeat the scene 200 more times and you understand the magnitude of what happened here.

"Behind the house, a guy was buried in debris. We took him out. Old man, 80-year-old neighbor. Very bruised," said Fleury.

"Just total devastation. Amazed. You always think it happens to somebody else, not your neighborhood. Not your friends, right?" said Noel Zerbonia, Washington, Ill. resident.

The question we heard from person after person, block after block: How did so many survive such a severe strike?

And perhaps that's adding to the perspective here: Even from the kids who were looking forward to a state semi-final playoff game this weekend.

"I ran into the football coach and asked him about the game and he said the kids don't care, they're worried about their community," said Gary Manier, Washington, Ill. mayor.

If anyone has seen the damage left behind by Hurricane Katrina or the tornado Joplin, Missouri, that's what the devastation in Washington looked like Monday.

In the midst of the sea of debris is what remains of Kris Lancaster's home. He was asleep Sunday, but his kids were up when the sirens started wailing.

The family watched as the tornado approached. Kris, with his smartphone, was determined to keep rolling on the video. With his wife and kids safely in the basement, Lancaster planted himself in a doorway.

"It kept coming and coming and coming, and I watched my daughter's playhouse fly off into the desert or somewhere," he said.

With deafening sound, debris flying everywhere, Lancaster chose to stay with the shot.

"I honestly thought I was going to heaven to be with Dad. I didn't think I'd be alive," Lancaster said.

Lancaster caught some debris in his right eye, which now ears a patch. Otherwise, he is OK. His wife and kids are fine, as well, but waking up Monday morning brought a hard reality - an enormous challenge for the Lancaster family and everyone in the tight-knit community now: rebuilding. A portion of the community is now homeless. It is not known exactly how many people.

On Monday, Lancaster returned to his home for the first time.

The loss was almost too much to bear but, also, taking in the reality that his family was safe and his daughter, alive.

"My daughter's Barbie doll, my daughter's shoes, and movies," said Lancaster.

Then, he rejoiced in finding his family's lost pet, realizing that some of the smallest joys in life are what are most important.

"Daddy got you baby. Daddy got you. Yes!!! I knew you'd come home bud, I knew you'd made it. Oh my god. Oh I love you, bud," said Lancaster.

Many homeowners told similar stories, saying they headed for the basements, waited the tornado out, and when it was over, they came back upstairs to find their homes flattened and many belongings gone.

"I'm devastated, sad. I feel for all the families," said Lancaster.

The tornado was on the ground in Washington for possibly two to three miles, carving up everything in its path.

A curfew was enforced in Washington overnight 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Monday. Checkpoints stood at the main entrances to the town where drivers had to prove they lived in the town to enter. Other roads were blocked completely due to severe damage.

The Illinois National Guard dispatched 10 firefighters to Washington. A news release by the National Guard followed reports that people were trapped in buildings after the severe weather.

Area hospitals set up a temporary emergency medical care facility in Washington. One official in a nearby hospital said it was unclear how many people were injured or the severity of those injuries. Steve Brewer of the Methodist Medical Center of Illinois in Peoria says a few people have come to the hospital and about 15 more had gone to another area hospital.

Brookport

Illinois State Police say three people killed in a tornado near Brookport were all from around the 1,000-resident city in far southern Illinois.

Police say 63-year-old Scholitta Burrus, 58-year-old Kathy George and 56-year-old Robert Harmon died in the storm Sunday afternoon.

Alderman Larry Call says the twister damaged dozens of homes on the Massac County town's outskirts but spared much of the inner portion of the community, which is along the Ohio River in Massac County.

A tornado hit Brookport, tearing through two mobile home parks and destroyed dozens of homes. The Illinois National Guard is helping crews with search and rescue efforts there as well. A curfew was in effect for Brookport from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Anyone who does not live in Brookport was allowed into the town during the curfew.

New Minden, Washington County, Ill.

Two people died in Washington County near St. Louis. A coroner says two people were killed when a tornado hit their home in rural southern Illinois.

Washington County coroner Mark Styninger said the elderly man and his sister died Sunday afternoon in their farmhouse in the town of New Minden, about 50 miles southeast of St. Louis.

The storm that struck New Minden was part of a series of intense thunderstorms and tornadoes that swept across the Midwest on Sunday, causing extensive damage in several central Illinois communities.

Cleanup in Illinois, around the country

Two people in Michigan also died during the severe weather. The National Weather Service reports the severe weather system on Sunday produced approximately 80 tornadoes that leveled scores of homes and demolished entire neighborhoods.

Governor Quinn declared seven Illinois counties disaster areas.

Jonathon Monken, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, says the late-season storms were an "unprecedented event" in the state for November.

Ameren Illinois' outage center shows there were about 19,000 customers without power Monday afternoon. The highest concentration is near Peoria, although outages are scattered across central and far southern Illinois. At the peak of the outages, the utility said about 140,000 customers had no power.

Also on the governor's tour schedule Monday were Diamond, Gifford, Brookport and New Minden, Ill.

ABC7 has received reports of debris, such as pictures, W2s and checks, from downstate Washington and Pekin, Ill., being found as far away as Shorewood and Countryside in the southwest Chicago suburbs.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) released a written statement on Sunday night regarding the severe weather outbreak: "My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by today's severe storms. I am receiving regular updates from Illinois emergency officials and local leaders including those from Washington, Illinois ? one of the areas that was hardest hit today. While we don't yet know the full extent of the damage, it is clear that coordinated local, state and federal resources will be needed to rebuild. I stand ready to work with my colleagues in that effort."

RED CROSS SHELTERS

The Red Cross is mobilizing operations out of the Greater Chicago Region and Peoria chapters to respond. Two shelters are open in the Chicago area, one in southern Cook County and another in Grundy County. In addition, four more shelters are open in central Illinois where the communities of Washington and Pekin were hit hard. Locations include:

  • New Community Church - 14801 Lincoln Ave. in Dolton
  • Coal City High School ? 655 W. Division St. in Coal City
  • Crossroads United Methodist Church ? 1420 N. Main St in Washington
  • Evangelical United Methodist Church ? 401 Main St in Washington
  • First United Methodist Church ? 154 E. Washington St in East Peoria
  • Avanti's Dome ? 3105 Griffin Avenue in Pekin

State-by-state look at storm, tornadoes in Midwest

INDIANA

Severe thunderstorms packing tornadoes and heavy winds rolled across Indiana Sunday afternoon and evening, injuring several people and causing widespread damage.

Gov. Mike Pence said 12 counties reported either tornadoes or storm damage after the initial line of storms had traveled midway across Indiana.

Kokomo police asked residents to stay home and off the streets after city officials declared a state of emergency in the wake of severe storms.

The city police department posted photos on its Twitter account showing buildings with roofs torn off and a destroyed bank branch. City officials also took to Twitter to tell residents to clear the way for first responders.

NIPSCO was reporting 46,000 customers are without power Sunday evening, mostly in Lake and Porter Counties. They say progress is being made, as a number of trees and power lines are down.

OHIO

Storms packing strong winds and the potential for tornadoes were starting to roll into western Ohio on Sunday night.

The National Weather Service had issued tornado warnings and watches for several counties along the state's western edge.

Heavy afternoon rains soaked football fans in Cincinnati where the Bengals beat the Cleveland Browns. Some pre-game activities outside the stadium had to be canceled because of the forecast.

MISSOURI

Severe storms slammed the eastern part of Missouri, leaving tens of thousands without power and destroying a mobile home.

Ameren Missouri reported more than 37,000 outages Sunday afternoon, mostly in the St. Louis area.

The National Weather Service said the storm tore shingles off of roofs and uprooted trees across parts of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

WISCONSIN

Strong winds knocked out power to thousands in the Milwaukee area, damaged buildings and downed trees in Dodge County and sent Sunday churchgoers scrambling into church basements for safety.

In the town of Hustisford, cattle sheds, garages and storage sheds were damaged, said Dodge County Emergency Management Director Joseph Meagher said. No injuries were immediately reported, he said.

MICHIGAN

High winds and rain slammed into the western part of the state. There are no immediate reports of injuries, but Consumers Energy reported thousands of power outages, especially east of U.S. 131 between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

Churches in western Michigan canceled evening worship services.

KENTUCKY

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for several counties in southern Kentucky.

Forecasters said the watch would be in effect until 7 p.m. Sunday for Trigg, Todd, Christian, and Calloway counties, and until 9 p.m. for Simpson, Logan and Allen counties. A wind advisory was also in effect for Louisville and the surrounding area.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)

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