(HARRISBURG, Ill.) — At least 12 people are dead after a series of tornadoes blew through the Midwest earlier this week, according to authorities, and the death toll is expected to rise.
The extensive damage caused by the storms in at least five states is only beginning to become clear. The tornadoes touched down across Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Kentucky and Illinois Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center said.
At least six people — four women and two men — were killed in the town of Harrisburg, Ill., according to Lt. Tracy Felty of the Saline County Sheriff’s Office. The tornado hit Harrisburg, 50 miles southwest of Evansville, Ind., around 5 a.m., leveling a wide swath of homes and other buildings.
The National Weather Service said the twister was about 200 yards wide and ranked as an EF4 — the second-highest rating given to twisters — with peak winds of 170 mph.
During a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg said that the city was in “search and recovery mode.”
“We have devastation in our community like we’ve never seen,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to protect this community. … That is our mission. That is our task now.”
Sheriffs’ officials earlier estimated the number of people killed in the 9,000-resident town to be as high as 10, but later said that number was incorrect. An estimated 100 people were injured in the storm, officials said.
The physical damage in Harrisburg was said to be extensive, with power lines down and as many as 300 homes and 25 businesses damaged or destroyed, according to officials at the sheriff’s office.
Schools in Harrisburg were canceled and officials asked non-residents to stay away, according to local ABC News affiliate WSIL-TV.
Another confirmed death came in Missouri, where the entertainment destination of Branson, Mo., was hit hard by the storms.
Local ABC News affiliate KMB-TV reported windows were blown out of the Hilton Convention Center in Branson and 32 people were treated for injuries in at least one local hospital.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued a state of emergency order Wednesday morning and shelters for displaced residents were opened throughout the state.
The small town of Harveyville in Kansas was also hit hard by a tornado that touched down just after 9 p.m. local time Tuesday.
“The town was taken out by about 40 percent of the buildings in the community,” Sharon Watson, director of public affairs for the Kansas Adjutant General’s Office told ABC News. “A significant amount of it has been destroyed. A lot of homes damaged, a lot of buildings down including a church and an apartment complex.”
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback also declared a state of emergency after the storm hit and caused highway closings and downed power lines throughout the area.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Stephen Collinson, CNN
Marisa Russell, CNN
Aaron Smith, CNN Newswire