Residents of the central Illinois town of Washington are sorting through the wreckage of what used to be their neighborhoods, blocks and homes following severe storms and a powerful tornado that ripped through the town Sunday afternoon.
HuffPost Chicago reader Timothy Rowe shared his first-hand account of the wreckage, including photos he took around town after the tornado.
(Story continues below)
Rowe said several of the pictures, including those of Advanced Auto Parts, "were on Washington Rd in the Tractor Supply Company parking lot." Rowe said other photos were taken near the Washington Park Pool and noted, "I did lose my sense of direction on what street I was at the time. But looking at a map I was walking around on Yorkshire Dr., Wilmor Rd. and Stratford Dr."
Rowe, who says he lives several miles from where the tornado touched down, said he personally "fared really well" and was lucky to escape damage to his home.
"I was actually outside trying to get my cat inside when it happened," Rowe told HuffPost via email. "I knew it was going to be a bad storm, with the wind and rain blowing around. But [I] had no clue that something that bad was so close to me. The sirens did blow and I did hear them of course, but I don't remember if they were blowing when I was outside getting my cat."
Tazewell County, where Washington is located, was among the seven counties declared disaster areas by Gov. Pat Quinn Monday. The EF-4 tornado packed winds of 170 to 190 mph, which NBC Chicago reports leveled more than 400 homes and left one person dead.
According to the Peoria Journal Star, a tearful Washington Mayor Gary Manier struggled to speak during an impromptu news conference Sunday afternoon.
"Devastating. A war zone," Manier said of the affected area. "I walked through one of the hardest hit areas and four streets of homes are gone...I couldn't tell what street I was on."
Washington residents like Phil Jones were simply happy to have escaped the tornado unharmed. The 75-year-old and his wife were at church when the tornado hit and returned to their house of 40 years to find it destroyed.
Jones told the Sun-Times the couple's two Yorkshire terriers, however, were alive.
Another unnamed Washington resident endured the same fate: His home was leveled, but his family and pet were safe:
"We need to make sure that we keep those records," Quinn said. "This is very, very important because in so doing we ultimately go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency where they do a full assessment with the records that we provide them, and our hope to get a federal disaster declaration really rides on our ability to get all information."
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story may have been incorrectly interpreted to suggest Washington, Ill. is located in Washington County. Though Washington County is one of the 13 counties declared a disaster area on account of the storms that hit Sunday, Washington is located in Tazewell County.