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Tornado strikes Harrisburg, surrounding area

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  • thesouthern.com

    WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2012

    TORN APART

    Riding outthe stormBY LES WINKELER THE SOUTHERN

    HARRISBURG Leap Daygot off to a rousing start.

    It was about 5 a.m. when Iheard my wife getout of bed. Thenext sound Iheard was rain orhail poundingagainst the side ofthe house.

    But, there wasanother sound

    that was more troubling. Ithought I was hearing a siren inthe distance. The weather wassevere enough that I openedthe window next to the bed tomake sure.

    The whistling wind made thesiren difficult to hear, but therewas no doubt this wasnt adrill.

    Winkeler

    STEVE JAHNKE / THE SOUTHERNThis aerial photo shows some of the damage Wednesday in Harrisburg.

    PAUL NEWTON / THE SOUTHERNGene Byrd pauses for a moment while he and his son, Devyn Byrd, 14, look over the damage to a friends houseafter a tornado hit in the early morning Wednesday in Harrisrburg.

    THE SOUTHERN

    HARRISBURG Six peoplewere killed and the death tollcould still rise from a tornadothat tore a path of destructionthrough Harrisburg shortlybefore 5 a.m. today.

    The Saline County SheriffsDepartment put early estimatesat more than 100 people injuredand 250 to 300 homesdestroyed. Aerial views showedwhat looked like the work of abombing. Emergency workersfrom across Southern Illinoiswere sent to help the batteredcity of about 9,100.

    Many power lines are downand some gas lines leaking.Telephone services are knockedout for many and cellular tele-phone traffic at times is over-loaded. Utility crews are on-scene and working. Severalstreets are blocked to all vehicleand pedestrian traffic and resi-dents are advised to treat allpower lines as being live.

    Tornado strikes Harrisburg, surrounding area

    SEE WINKELER / PAGE 2SEE TORNADO / PAGE 2

  • 2 THE SOUTHERN ILLINOISAN WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 29, 2012 SOUTHERN EXTRA www.thesouthern.com

    WINKELER: Gives first-personaccount of riding out the stormFROM PAGE 1

    By the time I got out ofbed I heard my wifeyelling, Grab someclothes.

    Somehow, in the darkand on autopilot, I gotdressed. Now the wind wasgetting more and moreintense.

    We need to go to a safeplace, my wife said.

    Because we have nobasement, the interiorhallway where we werestanding was where weneed to be.

    This is it, I told her.Then we grabbed each

    other and slid to the floor.The next few moments,

    Im guessing it was nomore than 10 seconds,were surreal. The roar ofthe wind echoed throughour ears. It wasnt theproverbial sound of anonrushing train, but it wasloud.

    We heard glass breakingall around us, and we heardcrashes in the distance.

    Then, just as quickly as itcame, the wind was gone.

    Wheres Beau? Judyasked.

    I hadnt seen our dog inthe few minutes we hadbeen out of bed.

    We both started callingfor him, and in a fewmoments we heard theclicking of toenail againsthardwood floor. It was areassuring sound.

    The next few momentswere spent fumblingaround in the dark, lookingfor flashlights. The goingwas treacherous as brokenglass littered the floors.

    I pushed open a bedroom

    door to find part of aneighbors house trailerhad broken through ourpatio doors. The windowsin the room were brokenout.

    In the meantime, Judyhad secured a couple offlashlights, and we sur-veyed the damage. Wewere lucky. Our house wasdamaged, but not struc-turally.

    After a quick survey, Iwent to the front door tocheck the yard. Beams oflight were shining from acouple directions.

    Neighbors were all outchecking their property,and going house to housechecking on everyonessafety. Fortunately, every-one in my immediateneighborhood was fine.

    Just a block or so east thepicture was much differ-ent. Roofs were lifted offhouses, other structureswere destroyed. The wind,or tornado, picked up afriends pickup truck andmoved it 30 feet.

    The FS building, just twoblocks from our home, wasflattened. Everywherepeople were walkingaround, making sure theirneighbors were fine.

    And, in just a matter ofan hour, chain saws andtractors started cleaningup the debris.

    Ive never experiencedanything like this.

    LES WINKELER is the sportseditor at The SouthernIllinoisan and lives inHarrisburg. He can bereached at 618-351-5088 orles.winkeler@thesouthern.com.

    TORNADO: Harrisburg, surrounding area hit hard by early morning storms; six confirmed deadFROM PAGE 1

    Anyone not involved inthe emergency response isasked to stay away fromHarrisburg until furthernotice.

    A shelter has beenopened at First BaptistChurch in Harrisburg at204 N. Main Street.

    The Harrisburg MedicalCenter sustained damagein the storm, but remainedopen and was treatingsome of the injured,according to Vince Ashley,CEO of the 78-bed hospi-tal. No one was injured atthe medical center, he said.

    Northeast of Harrisburg,Cheryl Lovellette, a dis-patcher with the GallatinCounty SheriffsDepartment, said no fatali-ties were reported inRidgway, but St. JosephChurch was destroyed andthe villages AmericanLegion severely damagedin the storm. Minorinjuries were reported.

    Lovellette said Ridgwaysmayor issued a disasterdeclaration, and volun-teers with debris removalequipment and chain saws

    still are needed to assist inrelief efforts. There is nopower in the town of about900, although a massivepolice, fire and emergencymedical response isengaged.

    South of Harrisburg, TheMassac County SheriffsDepartment reporteddamage to trees and build-ings near Metropolis. Treesblocked some roadwaysbut most have since beenremoved. No fatalities orinjuries were reported.

    Southwest ofHarrisburg, the PulaskiCounty sheriffs depart-ment confirmed somestorm damage in Moundsand Mound City. CountyEMS crews were dis-patched to assist in reliefefforts in Harrisburg.

    Seeing it hitThe tornado was spotted

    as a wall cloud by areastorm spotters at 4:52 a.m.It touched down at 4:56a.m. in a southwest part oftown known as Dorisville.It traveled northeastthrough the business dis-trict into an area called

    Gaskins City.Storm spotters Ryan

    Buckingham and RichardGood of the FranklinCounty EmergencyManagement Agency saidthey were east of Marion inWilliamson County whenthey saw the wall cloudform. They watched thetornado touch down andfollow along the path ofIllinois 13.

    The tornado causedmajor damage atSoutheastern IllinoisCollege. No injuries werereported at SIC. PresidentJonah Rice said classeshave been canceled theremainder of the week.Spring break begins March5 with classes resumingMarch 12.

    Rice said the tornadocaused minor damage tomost campus buildings.The greenhouse wasdestroyed. The softball andbaseball fields got majordamage, he said.

    We were really fortu-nate. We were in the path.The tornado almostseemed to go over andtouch down in Ridgway,Rice said.

    Help arrivingGov. Pat Quinn is

    expected to arrive about 2p.m., and he has he hasdirected the IllinoisEmergency ManagementAgency to activate theState EmergencyOperations Center (SEOC)in Springfield.

    State Sen. Gary Forby,D-Benton, said, Ive

    talked to the governorsoffice, the Department ofTransportation, the IllinoisEmergency ManagementAgency, Ameren, andeveryone else I could thinkof. Theyre all on their wayto Southern Illinois tohelp.

    West of Harrisburg, thedeputy coordinator of the Jackson CountyEmergency ManagementAgency, Shawn Priddy,said Carbondale andMurphysboro technicalrescue firemen were dis-patched to Harrisburg.

    Carbondale DeputyPolice Chief Jeff Grubbssaid the department senttwo police officers toHarrisburg through theIllinois Emergency Alarm

    System aid agreement.Carbondale Fire Chief

    John Michalesko saiddepartments withinMutual Aid Box AlarmSystem Division 45, whichcovers Southern Illinois,were rallying men andequipment to the hardest-hit areas.

    Michalesko saidCarbondales departmentsent a technical rescueteam and is delivering amobile generator lighttower to Harrisburg.

    Our hearts go out totheir families and the manyothers who were injured orsuffered a devastatingloss, Quinn said in a writ-ten statement. The stateof Illinois is committed todoing everything possibleto help these communitiesrespond and recover fromthis disaster.

    Said U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk,We are working closelywith the members of theIllinois delegation, will befollowing all future devel-opments, and stand readyto do anything we can toassist in this difficulttime.

    More trouble? Severe weather may be

    on the way Friday, accord-ing to weather forecasters,and storm or tornadowatches and warnings maybe issued.

    A watch means storms ortornadoes are possible inyour area. Stay alert forweather information andbe prepared to take shelterin a safe place. Seek shelterelsewhere if you live in amobile home.

    The Illinois EmergencyManagement Agency saysto report rotating funnelclouds to local emergencymanagement agencies, lawenforcement officials or 9-1-1.

    Warnings mean a torna-do or severe storm hasbeen sighted or indicatedon weather radar. Thesestorms may include pow-erful wind and damaginghail. Take shelter immedi-ately and turn on a batteryoperated radio, televisionor weather radio for updat-ed information.

    Most of The Southern Illinoisannewsroom staff contributed to this report.

    The AP also contributed to this article.

    PAUL NEWTON / THE SOUTHERNRoy Mauney of Harrisburg collects clothes from a dresser in what remains of his parents house after a tornado hit the Saline County town Wednesday. Mauney said his parents survived thestorm by taking cover in a bathtub before their house blew off its foundation and across the street.

    STEVE JAHNKE / THE SOUTHERNThis aerial photo shows some of the damage in Harrisburg.

  • BY BECKY MALKOVICH AND CODELL RODRIGUEZTHE SOUTHERN

    Aid is coming inthroughout SouthernIllinois to help Harris

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