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updated: 2/29/2012 11:48 AM

Ten confirmed dead in southern Illinois storm

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  • In this image made with a cellphone, a residential area is heavily damaged in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm swept through the area early Wednesday morning, Feb. 29, 2012. A hospital administrator in Harrisburg says at least three people were killed in the storm that swept through the region.

      In this image made with a cellphone, a residential area is heavily damaged in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm swept through the area early Wednesday morning, Feb. 29, 2012. A hospital administrator in Harrisburg says at least three people were killed in the storm that swept through the region.
    Associated Press

  • In this image made with a cellphone, damage is seen to a strip mall in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm swept through the area early Wednesday morning, Feb. 29, 2012. A hospital administrator in Harrisburg says at least three people were killed in the storm that swept through the region.

      In this image made with a cellphone, damage is seen to a strip mall in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm swept through the area early Wednesday morning, Feb. 29, 2012. A hospital administrator in Harrisburg says at least three people were killed in the storm that swept through the region.
    Associated Press

  • In this image made with a cellphone, a residential area is seen severely damaged in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm swept through the area early Wednesday morning, Feb. 29, 2012. At least three people are confirmed dead in Harrisburg, said Harrisburg Medical Center CEO Vince Ashley, and the city's medical center scrambling to treat an influx of injured.

      In this image made with a cellphone, a residential area is seen severely damaged in Harrisburg, Ill., after a severe storm swept through the area early Wednesday morning, Feb. 29, 2012. At least three people are confirmed dead in Harrisburg, said Harrisburg Medical Center CEO Vince Ashley, and the city's medical center scrambling to treat an influx of injured.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Ill. -- The Illinois Emergency Management Agency says the number of deaths in southern Illinois has risen to 10 in a severe storm that swept through the region.

Spokeswoman Patti Thompson says the Saline County Coroner's office in the city of Harrisburg has reported the updated death toll. The storm hit the area around 5 a.m., causing widespread damage.

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The pre-dawn storm left the city's medical center scrambling to treat an influx of injured, the hospital's top administrator said.

Harrisburg Medical Center CEO Vince Ashley said three victims were pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital shortly after the storm hit the 9,000-resident city about 5 a.m. He could not immediately estimate how many of the injured were treated at the 78-bed hospital, which also sustained damage. No one was injured at the medical center, he said.

"It's been quite a rush. They're still coming in, but we've been able to keep up with the flow of injured coming in," Ashley told The Associated Press more than three hours after the storm passed. "Helicopters have been coming in and out here all morning."

Damage in portions of Harrisburg was extensive, with homes destroyed along with a strip mall, Harrisburg Daily Register managing editor Terry Geese said. Authorities were searching house by house, meticulously searching for additional victims, he said.

Classes at Harrisburg schools were canceled.

Ameren Illinois says service is out to about 12,300 customers.

In nearby Gallatin County, police say the storm destroyed a Catholic church in the village of Ridgway, leaving only the front wall standing.

Back in Harrisburg, the medical center's Ashley said the hospital had ample warning of the storm's approach and moved its patients to secured areas before it hit. But the storm knocked out the site's heating and air-conditioning systems, prompting the hospital to begin transferring patients to hospitals elsewhere.

The medical center's emergency room was unscathed during the severe weather.

Pat Spoden, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky., said officials there as of midmorning Wednesday had not confirmed whether the southern Illinois damage was the result of any tornado.

"We know there's a lot of damage," he said. "Right now, it's a mess."

Messages left with the Saline County coroner were not immediately returned.

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