Taylorville tornado classified as EF-3 as cleanup continues

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The National Weather Service has classified the tornado that came through Taylorville Saturday as an EF-3, making it the strongest one to touch down in the town since NWS began keeping records in 1950.

National Weather Service senior meteorologist James Auten and two other NWS meteorologists spent Sunday and Monday assessing damage in Christian County to ascertain the tornado’s force.

The tornado, which had a top wind speed between 150 and 155 miles per hour, was one of three that touched down in Christian County Saturday, Auten said Monday. The other two had weaker wind speeds. An EF-0 tornado began in the southern part of the county and eventually fizzled out. An EF-2 touched down outside of Stonington and made its way along Illinois 48 and past the Macon County line.

On the Enhanced Fujita scale that measures tornadoes’ intensity, an EF-0 is the weakest; the strongest would be an EF-5. The scale describes an EF-3, which would have winds of 136 to 165 mph, as producing “severe” damage.

The tornado that ripped through Taylorville, injuring more than 20 people and damaging more than 500 structures, traveled 11.5 miles on the ground and was a half mile wide at its peak, according to Auten. It reached the edge of Taylorville about 5:21 p.m. Saturday.

Though the tornado weakened as it moved north, it was a “large, multiple vortex” tornado, which led to more damage, according to Auten. The multiple suction vortices, which can be at different strengths and rotate around each other within one tornado, often explain the varying level damage from one house to the next.

The same storm cell that caused tornadoes in Montgomery County pushed through Christian County and continued all the way to McLean County, causing five to seven more tornadoes, Auten said.

“By far, this is the strongest tornado of the bunch,” Auten said, of the Taylorville EF-3 tornado.

Christian County was declared a state disaster area Monday by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who toured the damage Sunday. The state disaster declaration makes available a wide variety of state resources that can help affected communities respond.

“After seeing the destruction first-hand, we are extremely fortunate that no lives were lost in this storm,” Rauner said in a statement. “Our hearts and thoughts go out to those impacted.”

State assistance to date includes Illinois Department of Transportation equipment to help burn debris and Illinois Emergency Management Agency equipment and personnel.

Taylorville officials continued to urge those who don’t live there to stay out of the damaged neighborhoods. Traffic has prohibited Ameren from effectively restoring power lines and poles in the areas, according to Christian County Sheriff Bruce Kettlekamp. The last 300 customers who need power from Ameren were expected to have had their electricity restored by 6 p.m. Monday.

“We don’t need any gawkers out there,” Kettelkamp said.

Taylorville Fire Chief Mike Crews, who serves as the Christian County emergency management director, said the top need right now was cash donations, which can be easily managed. The county is not seeking donations like clothes and food.

“The majority of them are greatly appreciated, but not needed right now,” Crews said of the non-cash donations. ”… If we have those needs, we will certainly be asking for them.”

Monetary donations can be made out to Missions of Taylorville and mailed to City Hall, 115 N. Main St., Taylorville, IL 62568. The account has been set up through U.S. Bank to field donations.

Kettelkamp said a “generous” anonymous donation has allowed for a relief fund to be set up for immediate needs: food, clothing, medicine and school supplies. Those in Taylorville who need help can call Lt. Scott Woods at 217-824-4961 to apply.

Public schools in Taylorville were set to reopen on Tuesday.

A number of high schools across central Illinois have announced on Twitter their efforts to assist those affected by Saturday’s tornado in Taylorville.

Nokomis said via Twitter that the entire Prairie State Conference will make donation buckets available for all of their basketball home games this week, including Nokomis’ home games on Monday and Wednesday. Shelbyville and Decatur MacArthur will also donate proceeds from their home games Tuesday.

The Christian County emergency management team is working on a multi-agency resource center to open up later in the week, to have a one-stop shop to help those affected, especially with insurance claims.

Crews urged those affected to reach out to their insurance agent in the meantime, especially to see if their policy covers hiring someone to clean up debris, or to stay in a hotel and pay for food.

by Crystal Thomas (2018, Dec 3 / Updated 2018, Dec 4) The State Journal-Register

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Kyrie Wagner