The Saline County Sheriff's Office has confirmed three people are dead, an estimated 100 are injured, between 250 and 300 houses are damaged or destroyed and an estimated 25 businesses are destroyed or damaged due to the tornado that struck 4:56 a.m. today.
Harrisburg Medical Center CEO Vince Ashley said later an additional person was killed in the storm who was brought to the hospital bringing the total to four. Ashley said one of those killed was a nurse at the hospital.
Several sources were reporting as many as 10 people killed when the tornado crashed through the southern end of Harrisburg.
The tornado destroyed the Harrisburg Water Department building in the Feazel Street area, several businesses on U.S. Route 45 in the area of the Golden Circle, leveled the shopping center south of Wal-Mart, destroyed many homes and an apartment complex on Brady and Water streets and destoyed homes in the area of the country club.
Emergency crews were removing bodies from Brady Street and Water Street and were digging through rubble for those still trapped.
Harrisburg Police Officer Tom Leverett experienced the storm and immediately went to work this morning.
“It sounded like a train blowing its whistle. It was loud. Stuff was shaking,” Leverett said.
“We had a big limb come through the roof. We all were running to the bathroom when the limb came down right through the middle of the roof.”
Leverett and his family were not hurt, so they went outside.
“We walked outside and all you could hear were people screaming for help. We found people laying in the field and everything else. It was bad,” Leverett said.
Leverett said he was aware the homes of Raymond Johnson and Tom Chrisman at the country club were gone.
Streets leading to the area of the worst damage and to the hospital were closed to all but emergency crews that arrived from as far as Carbondale and Carmi.
“It’s heartbreaking, absolutely heartbreaking,” Mayor Eric Gregg said as crews finished loading the second fatality into the Saline County Coroner’s van on Water Street.
“I’m so proud of our city and our people. We’ve got everybody here. Our community has rallied around to help us.”
Emergency agencies were to hold a meeting later today at the SIC Foundation Building.
Gregg said he noted just prior to the tornado all was eerily quiet.
The tornado hit at the worst possible time when many were still asleep and not tuned into local media to hear warnings. The Harrisburg warning siren sounded, but it is an outdoor siren and may not rouse those indoors.
“We’ve lost some of our loved ones today,” Gregg said.
Page 2 of 2 - Emergency crews from throughout Southern Illinois assisted with rescue efforts.