National Guard Targets Looters After Twisters Kill At Least 24
CREST HILL, Ill. (AP) _ National Guardsmen and fire officials searched a muddy cornfield today for more victims of tornadoes that flattened scores of homes and killed at least 24 people.
The dead included at least nine people found near a demolished apartment complex where six residents were missing, Lockport Fire Chief Dave Martis said today.
At least 306 people were treated at hospitals after the cluster of tornadoes touched down in four spots Tuesday afternoon, cutting an eight-mile trail of destruction leading to the northern Illinois city of Joliet. At least 11 people were listed in critical condition today.
In nearby Plainfield, residents began returning to the rubble of their homes.
″It was like an eggbeater went through the inside of the house,″ said 41- year-old Bruce Marshall as he tried to fashion a makeshift cover for his roofless home.
Gov. James R. Thompson declared Will County a state disaster area, and requested that President Bush declare the area a federal disaster to provide additional relief.
″Nothing in my personal experience ... compares with this,″ Thompson said during a tour of Plainfield today.
Illinois Treasurer Jerry Cosentino announced that the state will provide at least $25 million for low-interest loans to tornado victims.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, thunderstorms Tuesday halted power to 70,000 customers in central and western Ohio. A tornado touched down south of Tecumseh in southern Michigan and storms that ripped through northern Indiana left at least one person dead. Pat Jones, 27, was killed when the house he was building in South Bend collapsed.
At least two tornadoes were spotted in northwestern Pennsylvania, but no injuries were reported. Preliminary tallies made in the dark from the tornadoes in Illinois suggested more than 100 houses were destroyed, in addition to the apartment complex and a high school. The storms blacked out 17,000 homes and businesses, tossed trucks like toys and flattened crops.
″Cars were flying all over the place,″ said Tony Aloisio, who was driving by and stopped to help. ″It happened so fast that all I could do was sit there and watch. Then 15 minutes later the skies got blue like it had never even happened.″
About 30 Guardsmen took up positions in the three affected communities overnight and 150 were to arrive later in the day to search for victims and provide security, said Col. Phil Becker, a National Guard brigade commander.
At least four people were arrested for looting, and five others were taken into custody for interfering with rescuers, authorities said.
″I saw everything out there,″ said Will County Executive Charles Adelman. ″Refrigerators, TV sets, washing machines, cars stacked three high.″
The twisters - experts were unsure exactly how many - hit Joliet, 40 miles southwest of Chicago, neighboring Crest Hill, and Plainfield to the northwest.
Crest Hill Mayor Don Randich was among the first firefighters to arrive at the apartment complex. ″There were people wandering around, dazed,″ he said. ″Automobile horns were blowing, but there was no one in the cars. It was total confusion.″
Martis said the bodies of nine people were found near the apartment complex. Seven bodies, including that of a 4-month-old baby, were lying in a cornfield, some of them 400 feet from their apartments, and two were found in a car nearby, Martis said.
Rescuers went from apartment to apartment, throwing rubble off of the three-story buildings with shovels or just their hands.
The death toll was unclear. There were 24 confirmed fatalities as of 8:30 a.m. today, and there may be 30 dead, said John Plunk, acting director of the Illinois Emergency Services and Disaster Agency.
The Red Cross said about 600 people left homeless were given shelter.
Michael Hejka, 28, was at a friend’s house in Plainfield, a community of 4,500, when the tornado hit. ″I saw trees bending, and I said to my buddy, ’It’s a tornado 3/8‴ Hejka said. ″I said, ‘Jump into the bathtub.’ He jumped in, and I jumped in right on top of him. The whole house lifted up, and then came down.″
Plainfield High School was demolished and some of the 175 students and teachers inside were hurt. Catastrophe was averted because coaches rushed dozens of athletes from a gym before the roof collapsed.
″We had some very short warnings,″ said teacher Steve Schernerhorn. ″We immediately took cover.″
Teacher Mike Salisburg said cars in the parking lot were thrown hundreds of yards.
Will County is part of a frequently hit ″tornado alley.″ A tornado hit Plainfield Township in 1984, injuring six people and demolishing 14 homes. In 1976, a twister hit Lemont, 10 miles from Plainfield, killing three people and injuring as many as 40. That tornado damaged 375 houses and businesses.