The Federal Emergency Management Agency on March 5 began surveying the damage from tornadoes and other severe weather that roiled southern Illinois last week, starting in the small town of Harrisburg, where six people were killed and 100 injured by a pre-dawn twister.
Meanwhile, students in Harrisburg returned to classes while volunteers cleaned up from the Feb. 29 tornado that authorities say was 200 yards wide and packed winds of 170 mph.
FEMA will look at the magnitude and scope of damage, uninsured losses and a community’s ability to recover from damage, agency spokeswoman Hanna Vick said. Assessments will be conducted in Gallatin, Massac, Perry, Pulaski, Randolph, Saline, Union and Williamson counties, and the information will be turned over to Illinois officials to help support a request for a federal disaster declaration.
Gov. Pat Quinn already has issued a state disaster declaration.
Besides Harrisburg, a tornado also touched down in far southern Illinois just north of Paducah, Ky., on Feb. 29, National Weather Service meteorologist Dan Smith said. Vick said there also could be non-tornado-related wind and hail damage in some counties.
“We want to get an absolute overall look at the damage from the storms that started on Wednesday,” Vick said.
The agency, along with local officials and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, will survey damage to homes and businesses this week and to public infrastructure next week, Vick said.
IEMA Director Jon Monken said he expects the initial surveys to be completed on March 8.
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources closed part of Giant City State Park after a tornado uprooted trees and damaged a shelter.
The tornadoes’ toll was most severe in Harrisburg, where entire blocks were flattened in the town of some 9,000. The winds were strong enough to blow the walls off some rooms at the Harrisburg Medical Center, and devastated neighborhoods.
That storm was part of a violent system that ravaged the Midwest and South, killing at least 13 people in four states.
Illinois was largely spared when another storm rolled through on March 2. A tornado was reported four miles south of Trenton, in Clinton County, the National Weather Service said. But Clinton County Sheriff Mike Kreke said there were some downed trees but no property damage.
That storm system wreaked havoc in five states in the Midwest and South, including neighboring Indiana and Kentucky, and has been blamed for 39 deaths.