By Doug Stanglin and John Bacon, USA TODAY
A violent storm that brought rare, late-season tornadoes to the Midwest was heading to the northeast and out to sea Monday, leaving behind death and destruction in 12 states, including some communities with entire blocks of houses flattened.
The death toll rose to eight with scores of injuries reported. Authorities feared the casualty list would climb as towns begin to clear roads and restore communications.
The wave of thunderstorms Sunday brought damaging winds and tornadoes to Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York.
Six deaths were reported in Illinois, two in Michigan.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday declared disaster emergencies in seven counties. He lauded first responders for "working to exhaustion" to search for survivors and clear roads. And he vowed to work with the federal and local governments to expedite recovery.
"We're in this together," Quinn said at a brief press conference. "We're a team. We are the people of Illinois - we never give up, never surrender. We will prevail."
The National Weather Service said showers and thunderstorms would continue to develop as the storm moved eastward into New England and Canada, but that the widespread severe weather threat had diminished.
The weather service said around 80 tornadoes were reported as of Sunday night, but that the actual number will likely be in the 30 to 40 range because the same tornado often gets reported multiple times.
In Illinois, an elderly man and his sister were killed when a tornado hit their home in the rural southern community of New Minden, coroner Mark Styninger said. Three people perished in Massac County in the state's southern tip, and one person died in Washington, outside Peoria.
The National Weather Service said two tornadoes were rated EF-4, the second-highest rating on the Fujita scale, based on damage. Winds reached at least 166 mph in New Minden, and the Washington twister had winds estimated at up to 190 mph, the weather service said.
Washington, a town of 16,000 about 140 miles southwest of Chicago, appeared to have been the hardest hit. A violent twister cut a path about an eighth of a mile wide from one side of town to the other, State Trooper Dustin Pierce said. Several blocks of homes in one neighborhood were destroyed.
"The whole neighborhood's gone. The wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house," said Michael Perdun, speaking by cellphone.
At OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria, spokeswoman Amy Paul said 37 patients had been treated, eight with injuries ranging from broken bones to head injuries. Another hospital, Methodist Medical Center in Peoria, treated more than a dozen, but officials there said none of them were seriously injured.
In Michigan, Jackson County Sheriff Steven Rand said Ryan Allan Rickman, 21, died when his vehicle was crushed by a fallen tree Sunday night. And the Shiawassee County sheriff's department said Philip Daniel Smith, 59, was found dead and entangled in high voltage power wires after going outside late Sunday to investigate a noise.
More than a half-million homes and business were without power in Michigan early Monday, and power companies DTE and Consumers Energy said it could days for power to be completely restored.
In Lebanon, Ind., Melinda Wissig, a shift supervisor at Starbucks, said she looked up as someone shouted and saw a funnel bearing down on the coffee shop.
She rushed to the drive-thru to warn customers to come inside then took shelter with 10 other people in a bathroom,The Indianapolis Starreports. Wissig said she heard "a lot of crashing glass." Then, after two or three minutes, silence.
When she came out, Wissig saw a floor covered with debris, windows blown out and a car flipped on the sidewalk out front. No one was injured.
In Lafayette, Ind., Tippecanoe County schools Superintendent Scott Hanback said two school were severely damaged by the storms. "We're very thankful it happened on Sunday and not a school day with students and teachers (inside)," he said. "Yeah, it's pretty overwhelming."
Weather service meteorologist Matt Friedlein said such strong storms are rare this late in the year because there usually isn't enough heat from the sun to sustain the thunderstorms.
But he said temperatures Sunday had been expected to reach into the 60s and 70s, which he said is warm enough to help produce severe weather when it is coupled with winds, which are typically stronger this time of year than in the summer.
"You don't need temperatures in the 80s and 90s to produce severe weather (because) the strong winds compensate for for the lack of heating," Friedlein said. "That sets the stage for what we call wind shear, which may produce tornadoes."
Contributing: Doyle Rice in McLean, Va., Donna Leinwand Leger in Washington, D.C.; Alex Campbell, reporter for The Indianapolis Star, in Lebanon, Ind.; Associated Press