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Tornadoes rake Illinois communities

May 11, 2003 at 5:40 AM   |   Comments

CHICAGO, May 11 (UPI) -- Twisters generated by the same storm raked the Illinois communities of South Pekin and Lima hours apart late Saturday, with dozens of houses damaged and several dozen people injured, officials said Sunday.

The South Pekin storm, south of Peoria, appeared to spawn three or more tornadoes about four hours after a twister hit to the west in Lima, a tiny community where CNN reported the entire town's infrastructure was destroyed.

The National Weather Service said several tornadoes were reported in Illinois, southeast Iowa and northeast Missouri.

Near dawn Sunday National Weather Service radar showed an arc of unstable weather moving east through Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

Flash flooding was reported in the western suburbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, Saturday in a sudden downpour that dropped nearly 3 inches of rain.

The latest tornadoes kept alive a consecutive string of damaging storms that have hit through the last several days of non-stop weather catastrophes.

Although twice-struck Oklahoma City stayed clear of the danger area Saturday night, the National Weather Service had issued many tornado warnings from eastern Oklahoma north through Illinois.

Chicago itself was in the area of a tornado watch Saturday night with threatening weather near St. Louis, Mo. as well.

Radar showed pockets of moisture laden air from the south spread throughout thousands of square miles and moving to the east, as emergency crews in much of the midwest stayed on an overnight alert.

Friday night a tornado was spotted in a jittery Oklahoma City, touching down in a northeast suburb only a few miles from where another more damaging tornado had hit Thursday night.

President Bush Saturday declared a major disaster existed in the state of Oklahoma and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the area struck by severe storms and tornadoes.

Earlier Gov. Brad Henry had toured the already tornado-damaged areas of south Oklahoma City Friday and said those areas were devastated. Henry declared a disaster emergency in Oklahoma and Cleveland counties. He also said the state insurance commissioner estimated damage at more than $100 million.

At least 100 people were injured and more than 300 homes were destroyed when the late Thursday tornado cut through several Oklahoma City suburbs.

"It is amazing to me that we didn't lose lives," Henry told reporters Friday. "We are so thankful there were no fatalities."

He described the damage as "very significant," and promised that the devastated areas would "as we have done in the past, rebuild."

An unusual live broadcast on the National Weather Service radio network more than two hours before the first twister struck about 5:10 p.m. Thursday is being credited with saving lives during the rush-hour twister.

"For the first time ever we went live on the weather radio at 2:30 in the afternoon and we outlined the situation: the map features, the dry line, the potential for very significant storms and tornadoes, and what time we expected it," said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist for the NWS Forecast Office in Norman, Okla.

"All the response we have received from people has been incredible," Smith told United Press International.

The actual tornado warning was issued 20 minutes before the twister hit Moore, a suburb south of Oklahoma City, which again gave the public an early warning about the approaching twister.

As the tornado moved through the area, the weather service gave "blow-by-blow" coverage on the weather radio network, Smith said. There had been hours of notices on the network during the day about the unstable weather.

Since last Sunday there have been more than 300 tornadoes reported across the nation, and McCarthy said forecasters don't see a break until this coming Sunday. Last year there were 204 tornadoes reported for the entire month of May. It might be a short respite, however, as more unstable weather is expected into the middle of the coming week.

"Other than super outbreak in 1974 where we had 148 tornadoes in 16 hours this will be talked about because we've had 248 tornadoes over five days," he said from his office in Norman. "It seems to be quite a stretch of days for tornadoes. Usually we have two or three days and it quiets down for about a week. This is probably one of the most prolific stretches we have had."

"The devastation that's been left behind from more than 200 tornadoes this week alone is shocking," said Terry J. Sicilia, executive vice president of Disaster Services for the American Red Cross.

Red Cross spokeswoman Nancy Retherford told United Press International Friday the non-profit organization was in desperate need of donations to assist the victims of the disaster.

"The Red Cross has $5 million in disaster funds left," Retherford said. She said the Red Cross needs funds to meet the immediate needs of people affected by the tornadoes and storms.

Retherford said people who want to contribute could do so at redcross.org.

Moore, south of Oklahoma City, was the target of a major tornado for the second time in four years, but this one was not deadly like the one in 1999.

Thursday's tornado followed nearly the same path of the deadly 1999 twister across Oklahoma City's southern suburbs moving in a northeasterly direction. It crossed four interstate highways, turning over cars and even a bus. Most of the injuries were to people who were caught in their cars.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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