Accurate forecasts, early warnings saved many from killer tornadoes in Midwest


by CBS News

Posted on November 19, 2013 at 8:47 AM

The violent thunderstorms and tornadoes that howled through 12 states on Sunday left behind a swath of destruction, but amazingly, only eight deaths were reported.

One reason so many lives were saved: Forecasters were able to accurately predict the path of the storms. Television and radio warnings, text-message alerts and storm sirens warned people in time to take cover.

The other reason: The storms hit on a Sunday, when many residents were in church. Congregations headed for the safety of the church basements.

"I don't think we had one church damaged," said Gary Manier, mayor of Washington, Ill., a community of 16,000 about 140 miles southwest of Chicago.

An estimated 400 homes in Washington were destroyed when a rare, extremely powerful EF-4 tornado struck.

In Coal City, Ill., tobacco shop owner Muhammad Ali told CBS Chicago that he raced to take shelter at the Christian Life Assembly Church as the storm approached.

"Someone was praying for us, you know, and it was answered at the right time," Ali said.

Still, six people were killed in central and southern Illinois. The storms were the deadliest ever for the month of November in Illinois. Since 1986, there have been 194 tornado warnings in the month of November in Illinois, and more than half of them were issued Sunday, CBS News' Dean Reynolds reported.

Among the victims were an elderly brother and sister killed when their farmhouse in New Minden, Ill., was destroyed. The body of 80-year-old Joseph Hoy was found about 100 yards from the home, the local coroner said. His sister, 78-year-old Frances Hoy, was pulled alive from the rubble but died at a hospital.

New Minden residents Ray Hausler and his wife, Eunice, survived unhurt by sheltering in their cellar. Their house was destroyed.

"It's just unbelievable," Hausler told The Southern Illinoisian. "We're just thankful to God that neither one of us was hurt."

Two people were killed in Michigan. Jackson County Sheriff Steven Rand said a 21-year-old man form Leslie died when a tree crushed his car Sunday night. The Shiawassee County Sheriff's Department said a 59-year-old man was found dead and entangled in high-voltage power wires in Perry after going outside late Sunday to investigate a noise.

The heavy weather also battered parts of Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York. Preliminary estimates from the government say there 71 tornadoes Sunday in seven states.

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