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updated: 11/19/2013 3:07 PM

Power of Illinois tornadoes comes into focus

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  • A man walks through what is left of a neighborhood in Washington, a day after a tornado ripped through the central Illinois town. The tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of Washington to the other and damaged or destroyed as many as 500 homes.

      A man walks through what is left of a neighborhood in Washington, a day after a tornado ripped through the central Illinois town. The tornado cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of Washington to the other and damaged or destroyed as many as 500 homes.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

The power of the tornadoes that tore across Illinois on Sunday was coming into clearer focus as weather experts reported at least 11 twisters touched down in the state that day, the most devastating of which spun at 190 mph and stayed on the ground for 46 miles.

As aerial images in newspapers and on television showed the devastation, the National Weather Service and state officials were reporting what many in these towns had been saying since Sunday: Illinois had not seen an outbreak of tornadoes this strong -- or this deadly -- in November in the decades since the weather service began keeping records.

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The tornadoes killed six people in Illinois, the most to die in tornadoes on a single November day in the state. And the tornado with a 46-mile path that devastated neighborhoods in the central Illinois community of Washington was among two in the state that received a preliminary designation of EF4. Weather service records indicate that the state has never seen an EF4 -- the second-strongest rating given to twisters, indicating wind speeds between 166 to 200 mph -- in November.

According to weather service meteorologist Chris Miller, the tornado that hit Washington gained strength as it approached the town, hitting 190 mph at almost the exact time it arrived before losing speed as it left town.

Not only that, Miller said, the twister also grew in size.

"It had been two-to-four football fields wide, (but) when it got to Washington, it rapidly increased to a half-mile wide," he said.

On Tuesday, Washington Mayor Gary Manier said more than 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by Sunday's tornado and storm.

He also said during a televised news conference that some residents will be allowed back into their damaged homes to retrieve belongings ahead of more rainy weather forecast for Wednesday.

He said the community was coming together to help each other.

"We've been knocked down, but we're going to get back up," he said.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, as Gov. Pat Quinn was increasing the number of counties that had been designated the state disaster areas by six, from seven to 13, Federal Emergency Management Agency agents were in the state and other states hit by tornadoes as part of an effort to determine whether the states can seek a federal disaster declaration.

Meanwhile, Gov. Pat Quinn on Tuesday boosted to 13 the number of counties designated as state disaster areas. In addition, Federal Emergency Management Agency agents were in Illinois and other states hit by Sunday's severe weather to determine whether the states can seek a federal disaster declaration.

It was not immediately clear Tuesday whether or when Quinn might submit a request for federal disaster aid.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois has addressed his colleagues in Congress about the tornadoes, saying that the widespread damage will require local, state and federal resources and that he was ready to help see that Illinois receives federal funding.

Quinn, who has been touring the affected areas, said the priority is to make sure people left homeless in southern and central Illinois have roofs over their heads. As colder weather settles in, a key decision will be determining which homes are safe enough to reinhabit and which ones aren't.

The lack of housing is "going to be a big, big issue for us coming up in the next few days," the governor told WLS-TV in a phone interview Tuesday. Quinn singled out the small community of Brookport in the far southern end of the state. The storm struck a trailer park, and Quinn describing those left homeless as "very, very poor."

Manier, the Washington mayor, addressed a concern common in communities hit by a natural disaster: that the residents' plight would fade from memory.

"We're going to be here for a while, needing assistance and help, so please don't forget about us," he said.

Another issue is power outages. While power has been restored to tens of thousands of homes in the state, thousands more remain in the dark. Officials on Tuesday morning pegged the total number of homes and businesses without power at about 13,000.

Most of those, about 9,000, are Ameren Illinois customers in the Peoria area, with other outages scattered in central and southern Illinois. In northern Illinois, ComEd said about 4,000 of its customers were without electricity.

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