PLAINFIELD, Ill. -- Tornadoes tore through northeastern Illinois Tuesday afternoon, killing at least 20 people and injuring more than 200 others, officials said. Homes and a high school were wrecked, cars and trucks were overturned and power was knocked out to thousands of homes.
The tornadoes touched down about 3:15 p.m. and ripped through residential areas in Joliet, Plainfield, Crest Hill, Wheatland Township and Lockport Township in northeastern Illinois, a spokesman at the Will County Emergency Services and Disaster Agency office said.
Will County Deputy Coroner William Ferguson said 20 people were known to have been killed by the twisters, including 10 in an apartment building in Crest Hill, and five hospitals in the area reported treating at least 206 people injured by the twister.
Plainfield Fire Department Ambulance Chief John Watson told Chicago radio station WBBM five people were killed, but a spokeswoman for the Will County coroner's officer who requested anonymity said that 'we have no idea how many (people died) yet.'
The coroner's office set up a command post at the Plainfield Fire Department to handle fatalities.
Utility lines were knocked down and telephone service was cut off to the area about 35 miles southwest of Chicago. Some 43,000 homes without power, Commonwealth Edison spokesman Mike Kelly said.
Prince Mayne, a reporter at WCCQ radio in Joliet, said a three-story housing complex across from his studio was ripped to the height of about one story. He said he heard victims screaming.
'Across the street, four out of eight town homes are totally destroyed,' Mayne said. 'People are wandering around with their belongings, wondering what to do.'
Steve Schammerhor, an administrator at nearby Plainfield High School, said the roof of the main school building had been ripped off by the swirling winds. 'There is no school left,' he said. '... All the houses in front of the school are pretty much gone. Twenty or 30 houses are gone.'
The 1990-91 academic year was to have begun Wednesday, and only staff and a few student athletes were in the school.
'There was glass flying everywhere in everyone's face,' said an unidentified Plainfield volleyball player who was practicing inside the school when the storm hit. 'One player got hit with a brick but everyone was OK.'
Jim Trigger of WJOL radio in Joliet said, 'Ambulances are pouring into (Silver Cross Hospital) like I've never seen before in my life, dozens of them. It's an unbelievable mess. All off-duty police and firefighters have been called in to duty.'
A multiple-vehicle accident on Interstate 55 near Joliet was blamed on the twisters, with vehicles thrown around and at least one 18-wheeler lifted and dumped into the median. Several other vehicles were reported crushed in the accident.
The Aurora Municipal Airport reported a dozen planes torn apart or seriously damaged and a few hangars leveled.
The tornado was triggered by a line of strong thuderstorms that moved through the area with hail and high winds.
A spokeswoman for St. Joseph's Hospital in Joliet said 125 people were treated for injuries ranging from lacerations to bruises from flying debris. Silver Cross Hospital reported five injuries.
Copley Memorial Hospital in Aurora, northwest of Plainfield, reported 30 injuries, three or four of them serious, and a spokesman said patients were being referred there from overloaded Joliet-area hospitals.
Edward Hospital in Naperville reported treating 40 victims. A 23-year-old man was reported in critical condition in surgery, spokesman Donna Jarmusz said. Five others were admitted with serious but not life-threatening injuries.
A spokeswoman from Loyola Medical Center said six victims were brought to Loyola, five by helicopter, and more were expected.
Earlier in the day, a tornado touched down in Pecatonica, near the Wisconsin border in Winnebago County, but authorities reported no injuries. The twister touched down across from State Police headquarters and twisted road signs out of the concrete along U.S. 20, said Sgt. Glenn Koski.
The tornado tossed farm equipment at a farm implement store, overturned tombstones at a nearby cemetery and damaged buildings at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds, Koski said.