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HARRISBURG, Ill. – Residents of this far southern Illinois town are now trying to come to grips with the devastation of a massive EF-4 tornado that struck on Wednesday morning and killed six people.
Sheryl Hurd picked through what’s left of her sister’s trailer home in Harrisburg. The tornado lifted it off the concrete foundation and smashed it to pieces across the street.
“It’s tougher to be here than I thought,” Hurd said.
Her sister survived by riding out the storm in her bathtub and is hospitalized with some broken bones.
One of the worst storms to hit Illinois in decades left Harrisburg (pop. 9,000) looking like a war zone, CBS 2′s Mike Puccinelli reports.
“Our town is grieving for the loss of the lives of six residents,” Mayor Eric Gregg said. “Our hearts are broken.”
Dena McDonald’s heart also was broken. She lost her 75-year-old mother, Mary Osman, whose house was blown to pieces and deposited across the street with her still inside.
Dena had spoken to her mother four times in the previous two days.
“Now that I look back, I know there was a reason,” the emotional daughter said. “Because I told her I loved her four times.”
Mary Osman’s son, Darrell, rushed to his mother’s house as she was being transported in an ambulance. She couldn’t talk, but the squeeze of her hand spoke volumes.
“She couldn’t respond well, due to her injuries. But she knew we were there,” Darrell Osman said.
Additional severe weather, with powerful winds and rain, is forecast for the area on Friday.
Gov. Pat Quinn has declared a state of emergency for the area.
Quinn also joined Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, a native of nearby Carbondale, in meeting victims of the tornado and viewing the damage on Wednesday.
“It’s devastating. If you go to the homes, many people have lost their entire house, the roof of their house. The commercial damage here, it’s completely obliterated,” Quinn told Puccinelli Wednesday evening, while standing near a strip mall that was destroyed by the tornado.
The governor noted that it was lucky the tornado struck a commercial area of Harrisburg at the time it did. Since it hit early in the morning, the businesses were likely empty, while they would have been full of employees and customers if the storm hit midday.
“We lost six people. We should pray for their immortal souls and mourn their loss,” Quinn said. “But the property damage is a mess and we have to calculate it all.”
In addition to declaring Harrisburg a state disaster area, Quinn said he hopes to get federal aid by getting President Barack Obama to declare Harrisburg a federal disaster area.
The storm produced an EF4 tornado, according to the National Weather Service. CBS affiliate KFVS reported the peak wind during the storm clocked in at 180 mph.
The strongest category of tornado is an EF5.
The Saline County Sheriff’s office says 100 people were injured in and around Harrisburg during the storm, and at least 300 houses and 25 businesses were damaged or destroyed.