Nov. 17, 2013 — -- Severe storms and tornadoes tore across the Midwest today, killing at least five people and decimating much of the town of Washington, Ill.
A massive twister ripped through the northern part of Washington, leaving a wide trail of destruction.
"A path maybe 600 yards wide, extending at least two miles and there's nothing in there but kindling," Washington resident Gary Hinckle said.
The tornado was part of a massive storm system that tore across Illinois around noon, causing widespread damage and forcing officials to evacuate the crowd of approximately 60,000 at Chicago's Soldier Field during a Bears football game.
In the small town of Gifford, north of Champaign, more than 20 homes were completely destroyed, and there was no power.
"Power lines were down, part of the bank in town was actually destroyed, restaurants were destroyed, houses have been destroyed," Wade Rogers said after driving through the town. "I know I saw four or five houses that's flattened, and there's been maybe a dozen roofs torn off, sidings torn off houses."
Jonathon Monken, the director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said late this afternoon that an elderly couple was killed in Nashville, Ill., and another person was killed in Washington.
He announced this evening that two more people were killed in Massac County, bringing the total to five.
At least 37 people were injured in the storms, although officials said they expect that number to rise significantly.
In Peoria, Ill., the St. Francis Medical Center told ABC News station WLS-TV there were 24 patients being treated for storm-related injuries.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn declared a state of disaster in seven counties: Champaign, Grundy, LaSalle, Massac, Tazewell, Washington and Woodford.
The town of Washington appeared to have been one of the hardest hit. Photos posted to Twitter and Facebook from the residents showed entire buildings apparently flattened by the storms.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier said he was grateful he spent so much time going over emergency preparedness disaster plans.
"I was in church and I actually had our worshipers go to the basement and I'm sure some of them probably thought I was off my rocker, but you know a lot of times churches don't necessarily do tornado drills and fire drills like schools and businesses," he said.
"You work on a disaster recovery plan, all communities have and, you know, it's pages and pages and you go over it and you read it, you know, you go over it and over and over again and you think it gets monotonous, but am I glad it's in place today," he said.
In a news release, the Illinois National Guard said it had dispatched 10 firefighters and three vehicles to Washington to assist with "immediate search and recovery operations in the tornado damaged area."
Michael Perdun a resident of Washington, Ill., said his entire neighborhood was wiped out by the storm.
"I stepped outside and I heard it coming. My daughter was already in the basement, so I ran downstairs and grabbed her, crouched in the laundry room and all of a sudden I could see daylight up the stairway and my house was gone," Perdun said in an interview with The Associated Press on his cell phone.
"The whole neighborhood's gone, (and) the wall of my fireplace is all that is left of my house," he said.
Drew Beenders said he was in church in Washington when the storm hit and the service had to be stopped.
"It looks like a bomb just went off," Beenders wrote on Twitter before posting a picture of the storm damage.
In Chicago, residents were warned to stay off the streets as the strongest winds, approaching 60 miles per hours, swept through the area.
By mid-afternoon at least 230 flights had been cancelled from Chicago's O'Hare airport.
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency said they were responding to at least 11 counties that have reported tornado touchdowns.
The Ameren company, which provides electricity throughout Illinois, told ABC News radio that 144,500 people were without power throughout Illinois.
The ComEd electric company, which serves the Chicago area, told WLS-TV that there had been 79,000 outages.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.