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(WASHINGTON, Ill.) — A swarm of more than 80 tornadoes along with damaging winds struck 12 states Sunday, leaving at least eight people dead and many homes and businesses damaged or destroyed.

Illinois was hardest hit with 43 tornadoes.  According to the National Weather Service’s preliminary ratings, the tornado in the central town of Washington was rated EF-4, with winds from 170 to 190 mph.

In Washington, a rural community of about 16,000, rows of homes were completely flattened, trees uprooted and cars turned upside down.

The town’s mayor, Gary Manier, was in church when the tornado ripped through, and he sprang into action to usher people to safety.

“I was in church and I actually had our worshippers 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,” Manier told ABC News Radio.

Six people were reported killed in Illinois with two more fatalities in Michigan.

According to the climatology of U.S. tornadoes in the Midwest, twisters of such force are unusual for this time of year.  But it was a perfect atmospheric setup: strong jet stream aloft (more than 100 mph), blowing from the southwest to the northeast over the Midwest, which helped to lift the moist air at the surface coming from the Gulf of Mexico, south to north.

The result was violent, large and long-tracked tornadoes, seen more typically in April or May.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


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