Staff and Wire Report
A severe weather event narrowly missed the area on Friday, as a severe storm caused major damage in Williamson and Jackson counties.
According to The Associated Press, thunderstorms packing 100-mph winds and spawning funnel clouds ransacked Southern Illinois Friday, snapping trees, peeling siding off homes and leaving thousands without power, emergency officials said.
In Marion, Mayor Robert Butler surveyed the damage to his town and declared a 7 p.m. curfew, according to the Marion Daily Republican. Williamson County officials declared a 9 p.m. curfew for the rest of the county.
The Marion newspaper reported Friday evening that National Weather Service officials referred to Friday’s storm as “an inland hurricane.”
According to the Ameren IP Web site, 64,433 customers in Southern Illinois were without power as of 7 p.m. Friday evening. Ameren reported 95 percent of Gallatin and Williamson counties were without electricity, while 87 percent of Jackson County and 49 percent of Franklin County were without power.
The power company reported five customers in Jefferson County sustained power outages, though it was unclear if those outages were related to Friday’s storm.
Williamson and Jackson County officials urged residents to stay at home to make room for cleanup of roads, with several towns declaring curfews for the repair work.
A truck driver who had to be extricated from an overturned semitrailer was in serious condition after a “major trauma,” said Rosslynd Rice, a spokeswoman for Southern Illinois Healthcare.
About six other patients with minor injuries were being treated at the Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, she said.
“It tore the [heck] out of things,” said Calvin Brown at the Cherry Street Pub in Herrin. “It was wicked. I haven’t seen that in a long time.”
Winds blew out car windows, Brown said. It tore roofing from buildings and separated the fiberglass from the pub’s sign.
Power outages forced the cancellation of commencement ceremonies Friday at Southern Illinois University’s Carbondale campus, said university spokesman Rod Sievers.
“It’s just a mess on campus,” he said. Power is out, hundreds of trees are down and many dorm windows are broken, he said, but there were no injuries. “We were very lucky,” Sievers said.
If power returns, commencement ceremonies scheduled for Saturday will go on as planned. It was finals week at the school, and many students had left campus because they were finished with tests.
Carbondale Township Fire Capt. Mark Black said he was not sure if a tornado touched down in his area, but said “the winds were just amazing. They were howling and the siding on the trailers was flying through the air and there was a pretty hard rain.”
Law enforcement agencies reported tornado touchdowns in the Jackson County community of Raddle and just south of Pinckneyville in Perry County, National Weather Service meteorologist Amy Seeley said.
Derek Misener of Jackson County’s emergency management agency said he suspects his area may have had multiple tornadoes, with “substantial countywide damage and injuries.”
Seeley said a strong line of thunderstorms, packing fierce winds, hail and reported tornadoes, began moving through the region Friday morning.
Wind gusts in the Carbondale area reached 100 mph around 1:30 p.m., and sustained winds were as high as 90 mph.
Ruth Sarmiento, 63, was at her factory maintenance job when the storm hit, and returned to her blue-and-white-sided trailer home on the north side of Carbondale to find her home blown onto its side, leaning against a tree.
She bought the house for $800 two years ago after her previous trailer home, about two blocks away, burned to the ground. The Guatemalan immigrant, who has no family in the area and said she doesn’t have enough money to buy a new home, shrugged off concern about where she will stay.
“I’m not worried,” she said through a translator. “I will find someplace.”
Damage was reported in Williamson County and Jackson County, with more reports expected to come in later Friday, said Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson. Janet George, who answered the phone at the Illinois State Police District 13 office in DuQuoin, said there were reports of storm damage in the seven counties that office handles.
The storm knocked out phone service to much of Williamson County, making it difficult to determine whether there were any injuries, said Charmaine Chenoweth of the county’s emergency management agency in Marion.
“There are downed trees, downed power lines, roofs blown off homes and outbuildings,” Chenoweth said.
David Gugerty, 28, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, said a tree crushed his car and a branch tore through the roof of his trailer, coming to rest atop his refrigerator.
“I’m sitting in the trailer park trying to decide which way to run,” Gugerty said.
Veronica Tehandon, 33, returned to her Carbondale mobile home to find most of her trees snapped in two or toppled over. One crushed the roof of her white Honda Passport.
“I’m very sad about the trees,” she said. “I really prided myself in those trees.”
As a result of the storms, the State Emergency Operations Center in Springfield was activated.
“We’re in close contact with our local emergency management partners and stand ready to provide the assistance they need to protect public health and safety,” said Illinois Emergency Management Director Andrew Velasques III.
The SEOC is managed by IEMA and liaisons from several state agencies are at the SEOC including ISP, Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois Department of Public Health, Department of Central Management Services and the American Red Cross.
IEMA has dispatched staff to the counties and is working with the local officials to assess assistance needs, the ISP has dispatched troopers from adjoining districts to assist with traffic direction and security, and IDOT crews are clearing debris and trees from state routes in the area.
Staff and Wire Report
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