By Mary Wisniewski
WASHINGTON, Illinois (Reuters) – Rescue workers in a small Illinois city raked by a powerful tornado were combing through the wreckage on Tuesday in the wake of a fast-moving storm system that left eight people dead in two U.S. states.
The storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that tore through the Midwestern United States, killing at least six people in Illinois and two people in Michigan.
“Today we are focusing on combing through the wreckage and seeing the damage,” said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for Illinois emergency management agency. “We are also looking forward to the debris removal, working with communities trying to get the cleanup started.”
Illinois Governor Pat Quinn on Monday declared state disaster areas across seven counties, saying hundreds of homes and businesses have been damaged or destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people were without power and numerous roads throughout the state have been closed by fallen trees and downed power lines.
PHOTOS: Midwest tornadoes
Quinn on Tuesday declared six additional counties as state disaster areas.
The storm also damaged homes and buildings in Indiana and Kentucky, though no fatalities were reported in those states.
Of the six people killed in Illinois, authorities said one died in Washington, a city of 15,000 people roughly 145 miles southwest of Chicago, where as many as 500 homes had been damaged in the winds of 166 to 200 miles per hour (267-322 km per hour).
Attention turned on Tuesday to assessing the damage wrought by the twister.
“When you’re fortunate, you do all you can,” said 52-year-old Cay Ernst, who was helping a friend whose house had been badly damaged look for a prized ring on Monday afternoon.
In the destroyed area, where buildings were reduced to rubble and cars turned upside down, authorities barred vehicle traffic out of concern that people could be injured while attempting to retrieve their possessions.
In central Michigan, rescue workers found the body of a 59-year-old man entangled in downed power lines on Sunday night. A 21-year-old man was killed that night when a tree fell on his car in the central Michigan town of Leslie.
Over 675,000 homes and businesses in the U.S. Midwest and in the province of Ontario, Canada, were without power on Monday afternoon, according to local power companies.