Developing: Leap Day Storms 2012
4:28 pm
Wed February 29, 2012

Deaths, damage following sweep of severe storms through Branson, Mo., Harrisburg, Ill.

If you have photos of the storms in Harrisburg, Ill. or Branson, Mo., please email web producer Kelsey Proud at kproud@stlpublicradio.org.

Updated 4:22 p.m. with National Weather Service map:

Here's a map released by the National Weather Service of the path of the tornado that roared through Branson. You can track the path of the storm as it gained speed:

View Larger Map

Updated 3:54 p.m.

Mo. Gov. Jay Nixon has activated the Missouri National Guard in response to the tornadoes and severe storms that swept through the state, according to a release from the Guard.

Updated 3:00 p.m.

Gov. Pat Quinn has declared a disaster area in a southern Illinois city after a tornado left six people dead and at least 100 people injured.

Quinn spoke Wednesday afternoon in Harrisburg. His disaster declaration will make recovery resources available to affected areas of Saline County. Quinn's office said earlier Wednesday that the governor would survey the storm damage.

The governor says President Barack Obama called after waking up to news of a disaster in his home state.

Quinn also said he hopes God will bless the "immortal souls" of those who died. Quinn said Illinoisans have to band together "as a family."

Updated 2:15 p.m. following press conference with Harrisburg officials:

  • A preliminary assessment from National Weather Service in Paducah, Ky. puts the tornado at an EF-4, with maximum sustained winds of 170 mph. The tornado was about 200 yards wide. Weather Service officials say they also received reports of other tornados in the area.
  • The Saline Co. coroner says there are six confirmed fatalities, all adults. They are not releasing any names.
  • The Harrisburg Medical Center suffered some damage and is not admitting patients, but the emergency room is open.
  • Ameren Illinois says at the peak of the storms, 14,000 people were without power. 9,000 of those were in Harrisburg. As of 1:30 p.m., there were just over 3,300 people without power, with most of those in Harrisburg. 400 linemen will be in the Harrisburg area by tonight, including crews from the St. Louis area.
  • Officials with Atmos Energy, the natural gas provider, say all meters that were damaged by the storm have been turned off and crews are doing leak surveys
  • Volunteers can call 618-252-3732. All work crews will be required to pick up a free permit and show photo ID. City officials say the provisions are in place to prevent scams.

Updated 1:10 p.m.

From Sen. Mark Kirk's office:

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the thousands of people in Southern Illinois, and throughout the Midwest, who experienced the devastation and destruction brought on by this morning's storms. The Office of Senator Kirk expresses deep appreciation and tremendous gratitude for the hundreds of emergency response personnel and volunteers who have taken rescue and cleanup efforts upon themselves. We are working closely with the members of the Illinois delegation, will be following all future developments, and stand ready to do anything we can to assist in this difficult time."

Jeff Williams from WSIU-FM in Carbondale says Saline County officials report more than 100 people were injured in the storms. More than 200 homes and 25 businesses were either destroyed or damaged, including the hospital.

At the height of the storms, more than 10,000 people were without power in Illinois. Ameren Illinois says that number is now down to about 1,300.

Williams says field teams from the National Weather Service office in Paducah, Ky. are are on the ground surveying the damage to determine whether a tornado touched down. The full surveys are expected to take a few days to complete.

Updated 11:29 a.m.:

Via the Associated Press: State emergency officials have revised storm toll to 6 dead (down from previously reported 10) in southern Illinois.

 Update 11: 22 a.m.:

Illinois officials say no one is missing in Harrisburg after severe weather rolled through southern Illinois.

Patti Thompson is spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. She says Harrisburg authorities say they've accounted for everyone and outside search-and-rescue teams have been called off.

Thompson says specially trained rescue teams from emergency-response agencies in Charleston, Marion, St. Clair County, Springfield and Urbana were on their way to Harrisburg on Wednesday but have been told to return.

She says outside agencies have supplied light poles and nine ambulances, however.

Update as of 10: 35 a.m.:

Authorities say 10 people have been confirmed killed in Harrisburg, Ill.

Updated at 10:25 with more information on fatalities. Original story posted 6:27 a.m. coupled with that update below:

At least one person has been killed in southwest Missouri as possible tornadoes rolled through the Midwest, causing numerous injuries and significant damage.

Lt. Dana Eagan of the Dallas County Sheriff's Office says one person was killed and 13 others injured when a possible tornado hit a mobile home park south of Buffalo. She did not have any details on the person who died.

National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Griffin says that in Branson, Mo., there were at least a dozen injuries including people trapped in their homes. He says the apparent tornado moved through downtown Branson, heavily damaging the city's famous theaters. Branson's mayor, Raeanne Presley, said on Twitter that the damage was limited to certain areas.

Gov. Jay Nixon has declared a state of emergency, which makes state resources available.  He's planning to visit some of the hardest-hit areas today.

"As we did throughout 2011's numerous emergencies, the state of Missouri will assist at every stage of this response to keep Missouri families safe and help communities recover and rebuild," Nixon said in a statement.

Sen. Claire McCaskill issued the following statement on the Branson storms:

“My thoughts and prayers are with the folks in southern Missouri, and across the Midwest, who’ve been touched by this tragedy. We’re learning more about these storms by the minute—and Americans tuning in are seeing the fast work of emergency responders, quick decisions by community leaders, and the resilience of Missouri’s families and businesses. My staff and I are standing by to provide support to these communities and I plan to work with the rest of our delegation to make sure Missourians have the resources necessary to rebuild.”

Her colleague, Roy Blunt, had a similar message:

“My thoughts and prayers go out to the families who have been impacted by this recent storm. We are monitoring this situation very closely, and I urge anyone who needs assistance to contact my office and to heed all safety precautions issued by local officials. As Missourians have always demonstrated in the face of adversity, I have no doubt that our communities will rally together to rebuild and our neighbors will serve as the first and last responders during this time of need.”

And Republican U.S. Senate candidates  John Brunner, Todd Akin, and Sarah Steelman sent "thoughts and prayers" out on their Twitter feeds. Steelman said she'd heard of another fatality, this one in Stoddard County, near the Bootheel.

In the St. Louis area, high winds brought down tree limbs and power lines. At one point early Wednesday morning, Ameren Missouri reported thousands of outages in St. Louis and Jefferson counties.

And storms in Harrisburg, Ill., about 135 miles southwest of St. Louis, killed at least three people and injured an unknown number. Some reports put the death toll there as high as 10.  The editor of the town's paper told the Associated Press that the storm destroyed a strip mall and a number of houses, and that authorities were conducting a house-by-house search.  Ill. Gov Pat Quinn activated the state's Emergency Operations Center, and plans to visit the area today.

"Out hearts go out to their families and the many others who were injured or suffered a devastating loss," Quinn said in a statement. "The state of Illinois is committed to doing everything possible to help these communities respond and recover from this disaster."