Swarms of tornadoes killed at least 10 people across the Midwest, shut down the University of Kansas and caused so much damage in Springfield that the mayor compared it to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The violent weather started during the weekend with a line of storms that spawned tornadoes and downpours from the southern Plains to the Ohio Valley.
On Monday, a second line of storms raked the region, with rain, hail and fierce wind tearing up trees and homes from Kansas through Indiana. To the northwest, the vast weather system pulled cold air in Canada, generating snowstorms that cut off power to thousands and shut down schools in South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Illinois’ capital was hit hard twice in 24 hours, first by a tornado and then strong wind early Monday that blew debris through the city. Power lines were down across Springfield, trees uprooted and windows blown out.
“It’s just amazing how devastating it is,” Mayor Tim Davlin said Monday after daylight let him see the extent of damage. “It looks like the pictures we saw a couple months ago after Katrina.”
About 20 tornadoes
The tornado that struck Springfield on Sunday evening was one of about 20 that broke out along a 400-mile patch across Missouri and Illinois, National Weather Service meteorologist Ed Shimon said Monday.
Most major roads into the city were closed, and police searched damaged homes and businesses for people who could be trapped, said city spokesman Ernie Slottag. At least 24 people were treated for minor injuries.
Two hotels looked like they were still under construction, with missing roofs and blown-out windows. A nearby Wal-Mart store had also lost its roof.
Even the five-story Illinois Emergency Management Agency building was damaged, its roof partly torn off and the top floor flooded, said IEMA spokeswoman Patti Thompson. The Capitol lost two windows, and the governor told nonessential state employees in Springfield they weren’t required to report to work Monday.
Missouri was also hit hard by the weekend storms, with at least nine people killed and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed or damaged. Hail as big as softballs pounded parts of the state.
Bobby Ritcheson, 23, said he watched as a neighbor was killed south of Sedalia, Mo.
“The trailer came down right on top of her,” Ritcheson said.
Homes were destroyed along a path of more than 20 miles south of St. Louis, officials said.
At the University of Kansas, where 60 percent of the buildings were damaged by weekend storms, Provost David Shulenberger said classes were canceled Monday because of safety concerns about debris falling from roofs. The Lawrence campus was littered with trees, roof tiles and window glass.
Two trees fell through Rhonda Burns’ mobile home in Lawrence early Sunday.
“If the wind had shifted that tree just a few inches, I wouldn’t be talking to you,” she said.
Tornadoes also destroyed dozens of homes Sunday in Oklahoma and Arkansas.
“It was over before you knew it,” said Greg Kospar, 41, of Bentonville, Ark. “The house is gone.”
In Illinois, the tornado that struck Springfield on Sunday had made a two-hour pass through central Illinois.
The Chicago area was struck by high wind, with gusts to 70 mph in suburban Tinley Park, and roofs were blown off apartment buildings in suburban Bridgeview. Localized flooding was reported in the Chicago and Quad Cities areas.
Widespread power outages
Thousands of people were without power in the state Monday morning, including about 15,000 in the Springfield area, down from about 65,000 at the height of the storms, Thompson said.
Davlin said his brother’s restaurant and bar in the nearby town of Jerome was heavily damaged.
“I had to call him and tell him that his roof was four buildings away,” said the mayor, whose brother was out of town during the storm.
The vast weather system arose as moist air from the Gulf of Mexico collided with cold Canadian air, said Philip Schumacher of the National Weather Service in Sioux Falls, S.D. The system dumped 20 inches of snow in parts of western South Dakota and knocked out power and closed schools as it moved into Minnesota and Wisconsin.
“It is a sign that spring is coming,” said Schumacher. “You start getting stronger low-pressure systems, and they’re able to bring in stronger south winds, which tend to bring up more moisture.”
Missouri authorities reported nine people killed, including four whose bodies were found in the rubble of homes near the town of Renick.
Another storm victim was found in Indiana, where several people had to be rescued from cars stalled in rapidly rising water. Flood warnings were posted Monday for large areas of southern and central Indiana.