WASHINGTON, Ill. — The cleanup from Sunday’s outbreak of tornadoes had scarcely begun, but people in storm-ravaged towns like Washington, 140 miles southwest of Chicago, had to keep moving.
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.
It could be days before power is restored in the town of 16,000, state officials said Monday, and debris was still scattered across the streets. But people forced out of their homes were allowed back in Monday to survey damage and see what they could save.
In one neighborhood, homeowners and their friends and families worked quickly in a stiff, cold breeze. Some homes had been shattered into piles of brick, drywall and lumber. Others, like Jessica Bochart’s house, still had sections standing.
Though the powerful line of thunderstorms and tornadoes howled across 12 states Sunday, flattening neighborhoods in minutes, the death toll stood at just eight.
Forecasters’ uncannily accurate predictions, combined with television and radio warnings, text-message alerts and storm sirens, almost certainly saved lives.
But in Washington, the hardest-hit town, many families, like the Bocharts, were also in church.
“I don’t think we had one church damaged,” Mayor Gary Manier said.
Daniel Bennett was officiating Sunday service before 600 to 700 people when he heard a warning. Then another. And another.
“I’d say probably two dozen phones started going off in the service, and everybody started looking down,” he said.
What they saw was a text message that a twister was in the area.
Bennett stopped the service and ushered everyone to a safe place until the threat passed.
A day later, many in the community believed that the messages helped minimize the number of dead and injured.
“That’s got to be connected,” Bennett said as he bicycled through a neighborhood looking for parishioners’ homes. “The ability to get instant information.”