Residents from downstate Harrisburg tell NBCChicago's Dick Johnson what it was like to experience an E4 tornado rip through town with up to 170 mph winds. Charles Turner, 71, said he couldn't believe how he and his wife survived.
Cleanup continues in several communities across the Midwest, including downstate Harrisburg, after a line of tornadoes ripped the towns apart.
Six people are confirmed dead following the E4 tornado that blew through Harrisburg. About 300 homes and 25 businesses were destroyed in 170 mph winds, and a strip mall was reduced to a pile of twisted rubble. The twister was one of 16 tornadoes sightings in nine states.
Convoys of utility trucks entered Harrisburg overnight, trying to restore power in the southwest section of town. There is so much cleanup, though, that workers can only move debris with front-loaders and create roadways to reach damaged subdivisions.
"I heard a crackling sound, a big light and then a big explosion," said Charles Turner, 71. Turner told NBCChicago there was no time to react, and a day after the storm, he said he couldn't believe he and his wife survived.
"There was a cabinet that fell over on top of me, and it picked me and that cabinet both up and took us out about 50 feet."
A curfew in place for 12 hours was lifted early Thursday so residents could return to their homes and recovery workers could assess the damage. Police said they shut down the hardest hit parts of Harrisburg at sunset for the safety and security of what's left.
The First Baptist Church opened a shelter for displaced residents like 15-year-old Alex and his family who said they left their apartment after they lost electricity and a large smell of gas settled in.
"Watching the movies, and seeing what can happen there, and then seeing it in real life is a totally different thing," Alex said. "It's horrible."
The bigger worry is about more severe weather is on the way. Gov. Pat Quinn visited Harrisburg Wednesday and said President Barack Obama called to check on the damage in his home state. The governor activated Illinois' emergency operations center and offered state aid for recovery and cleanup efforts.