Residents of tornado-hit Midwest city regroup amid looting


By Nick Carey

WASHINGTON, Ill., Nov 19 (Reuters) - Residents of a centralIllinois city hit by a powerful tornado worked feverishly onTuesday to salvage belongings from the rubble of their homes, asan over-burdened police force tried to stop looting.

Authorities doubled to 1,000 their estimate of homes damagedor destroyed in the fast-moving storm that hit Washington, atown of 15,000 located 145 miles (235 km) southwest of Chicago,on Sunday. Winds reached up to 200 miles per hour (322 km perhour), and many houses were reduced to piles of sticks.

The storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday inthe Midwestern United States, killing at least six people inIllinois and two in Michigan. The cost of damage is estimated at$1 billion.

Roads in and out of Washington were clogged on Tuesday withpickup trucks, which residents filled with whatever they couldfind that was salvageable. The sound of chainsaws cuttingthrough fallen trees could be heard everywhere. Incidents oflooting, and the threat of rain on Wednesday, added urgency tothe task.

Homeowner Ken Dunston said a truck had pulled up outside hishome and made off with a pile of his furniture.

"They're stealing everything they can," said Dunston. "Thenext time they come through here I'll grab hold of them and callthe police."

Washington police department commander Greg Gordon saidlooters are posing a huge challenge for the local force, whichhas been augmented by officers from nearby Peoria and statepolice.


Diana Wara, 50, a professional cook, was trying to get herrecipes off the hard drive of her crushed computer. All thatremained of her two-story home was its foundation. Her family'sfour cars were destroyed, she said.

"My whole life is on that computer," she said, struggling tohold back tears. "We're all just lucky to be alive and we'regoing to rebuild."

She has already talked to a builder, but in the meantime,her insurance company has put up her family in an apartment, shesaid.

Mike Bochart, 40, was in church when the storm hit, so heand his family stayed safe, while half of his home wasdestroyed. He was removing what he could on Tuesday.

"Everyone has been pitching in to help, this is a goodtown," Bochart said. "It's going to be a long road, but we willrebuild."

Early estimates suggest that the property damage caused bythe storm could reach $1 billion, with the greatest toll inIllinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Missouri, according to RiskManagement Solutions, a Newark, California-based company thatspecializes in assessing the toll of storms and other disasters.

November tornado outbreaks are relatively rare this farnorth - they are seen only about once every 10 years in thispart of the Midwest, according to Greg Carbin, meteorologist forthe National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center.

Rebuilding from a November storm, as opposed to a springstorm, poses different challenges, according to Terry Ruhland,spokesman for the Homebuilders Association of Greater Peoria.

One problem is that foundations that are solid now maysuffer damage from winter weather while homeowners wait forconstruction to begin, so foundations will need to be protected,Ruhland said.

"Do I think people will step up to the plate and makehistoric efforts? Absolutely," Ruhland said. "But it will bevery challenging due to the devastation, the weather conditions,and the volume of work needing to be done."

Washington Mayor Gary Manier asked volunteers to stay awayfor now to let people into their homes. But the town will needhelp going forward.

"We're going to be here for quite a while and we're going toneed assistance," Manier said. "So please don't forget aboutus." He said the town has had offers of help from as far off asItaly and the Philippines, where residents are struggling torecover from their own natural disaster, Typhoon Haiyan, whichauthorities estimate killed more than 3,900 people after roaringashore on Nov. 8.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has declared 13 countiesdisaster areas.

Of the six people killed in Illinois, authorities said onedied in Washington and three in Brookport on the Kentuckyborder, where a tornado with winds up to 145 mph destroyeddozens of mobile homes and damaged dozens of houses, garages,storage buildings, businesses and other structures.

Two men died in Michigan in storm-related incidents.

Tornadoes also caused major damage in Indiana and lesserdamage in Ohio, according to the National Weather Service.

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