STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
We're going next to the town of Harrisburg, Illinois, one of many Midwestern towns struck by tornados. Harrisburg suffered the most of those towns. The tornado killed six people, with winds of up to 170 miles per hour. NPR's Cheryl Corley is there.
CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: Sections of Harrisburg, where buildings are now piles of rubble, have been off limits after the city set a 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew. But last night, a long stretch of what used to be a strip mall, was lit brightly by the lights of television crews, the only acknowledgement that there used to be shops here the huge bright yellow letters that spelled Cash Store on top of a mound of towering debris.
Looking at it all, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Greg(ph) said it was almost surreal.
MAYOR ERIC GREG: We have over 100 people that are injured. We have, you know, several homes and businesses destroyed, millions of dollars in damages. But again, most importantly, we're suffering tonight for the loss of some of our citizens.
INSKEEP: Most of the victims here died after the tornado. A massive force 200 yards wide with 170 mile per hour winds ripped through a housing development of duplexes near the strip mall. Seventy-five-year-old Mary Osman(ph) was among them. Her son, Daryl, said he heard the warning sirens and after the tornado passed, he tried to contact his mother, then raced to her home when she didn't answer phone calls. He arrived just in time to speak to her before she was taken to a hospital, where she died.
DARYL OSMAN: She had a broken femur and a broken shoulder, had a head injury.
CORLEY: Two hundred to 300 homes were also damaged here, trees uprooted, cars smashed. Osman's daughter, Dina McDonnel(ph), said her mother had only lived in her new home for three and a half months.
DINA MCDONNELL: She said something about a month ago about she finally got the new smell out of there, because she'd been burning candles and she was excited about it finally looking like a home.
CORLEY: There's been lots of cooperation here in this town of 9,000, as residents began to sift through debris, looking to find bits of their lives that the tornado has left behind. Earlier yesterday, Fire Chief Bill Summers(ph) called the Harrisburg fatalities heartbreaking, adding that assistance from other towns was extremely helpful in a truly horrible situation.
BILL SUMMERS: We had rescue teams from every town in our area. They worked very hard and were able to get a lot of people out of the houses. It's just unreal. It's like a war zone if you haven't seen that area there.
CORLEY: Summers and other officials will meet today to determine how many police officers and others are needed to keep ravaged areas of Harrisburg secure.
(SOUNDBITE OF POUNDING)
CORLEY: The doors are locked at the First Baptist Church is Harrisburg. It's being used as a shelter, an escape from the havoc for a small group of families who have no power or hot water in their homes. Six-year-old Brandon Matthews(ph) says he hid in the closet with his mother and baby sister when the tornado roared through the area.
BRANDON MATTHEWS: All you could hear on the roof was like a woooff...
CORLEY: When you were in the closet?
MATTHEWS: Yeah. First we went in the closet.
CORLEY: More than 14,000 utility customers in the region lost service immediately after the storm, and while crews have been working to restore it, the extensive damage means power may not be fully back until late tomorrow. Brandon's mother, Danielle Mathews(ph), says she hopes to be able to return home soon.
DANIELLE MATTHEWS: Well, we've got a busted window, so I'm happy it's a busted window compared to the damage that we've seen.
CORLEY: Mayor Greg says he knows that people who have been displaced are anxious to return home, whether they are at the shelter or living with friends or family. He's anxious too, about a forecast that promises more stormy weather may be possible this week.
GREG: We're going to keep everybody on the ready, because we don't want to go through this again, and we want to make sure we protect our citizens.
CORLEY: Greg vows the tornado will not derail this town and that not only will it be rebuilt but it will be stronger. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Harrisburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.