Updated 11/19/13 – 12:11 p.m.
WASHINGTON, Ill. (CBS) — As the governor on Tuesday declared six more counties disaster areas in the wake of Sunday’s tornadoes, officials in the town of Washington said at least twice as many homes were damaged or destroyed as they initially feared.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier said approximately 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in his small town, double the original estimate of about 500 homes. Washington — a town of about 15,000 people located east of Peoria in Tazewell County — was hardest hit by Sunday’s violent storms, in terms of the number of homes affected.
Officials in Washington were allowing anyone who can prove they are a town resident to get past police checkpoints, in order to retrieve possessions from what is left of their homes, from noon to 4 p.m. However, many local residents had begun sorting through the rubble even before being given an official approval.
Earlier Tuesday, Gov. Pat Quinn declared six more counties to be disaster areas due to tornado or severe weather damage. The move early Tuesday brings the total number of counties designated as state disaster areas to 13. The designation is designed to make it easier for counties impacted by the storms to get state aid, and possibly federal aid down the line.
The counties declared disaster areas are: Champaign, Douglas, Grundy, Jasper, LaSalle, Massac, Pope, Tazewell, Wabash, Washington, Wayne, Will, and Woodford.
Tuesday morning, survivors of the tornadoes continued trying to salvage what they could from what remains of their homes, while many families also dealt with the pain of losing loved ones.
CBS 2’s Kris Gutierrez reports more than 200 people in Washington were injured, and one was killed, when an EF-4 tornado ripped through the town, bringing winds between 170 and 190 miles per hour. An EF-4 tornado is the second-highest rating for a twister.
Statewide, at least six people died in the storms.
The funnel cloud that hit Washington was 1/8 mile wide, and cut a path of destruction approximately 3 1/2 miles long.
From her hospital bed, 78-year-old Mary Kail recalled when the storm destroyed her house. Kail was found buried under debris from her collapsed home.
“All the hard rain and winds, and all of a sudden my legs felt like they were paralyzed, and I heard something terrible, and then I guess my heart stopped. I kept praying. They put the paddles on me, and I snapped out of it,” she said.
Joey Davidson, who also was hurt in the storm, recalled being struck by flying debris.
“I could feel everything that was hitting me. I knew it was cinder blocks, and I knew it was trusses. It was just very surreal, and at one point I thought I was a goner,” he said.
About 90 miles northwest of Washington, a curfew was lifted at 6 a.m. in the town of Diamond, where another tornado left a four-mile path of destruction between Diamond and neighboring Coal City.
Jennifer Elliot said her family was in the basement when the twister hit the town, after having just put up some Christmas lights and decorations, and eating lunch.
“The sirens went off, and so we got the kids down, and then we saw our neighbors outside, and asked them if they wanted to come over, because they had a crawlspace, and got them over with their mother, and got downstairs, and grabbed some waters,” she said.
Though her home was severely damaged by the storm, Elliot said she’s been able to recover her wedding dress, baby pictures, and a few other valuables.
“We were very lucky, because a lot of it was in our basement, and that really didn’t have a lot of damage to it, so we were able to find a lot of things,” she said.
Hundreds of homes were damaged in Diamond and Coal City, and dozens more were completely destroyed.