PICTURES, VIDEO

Survivors of deadly Midwest tornado sift through wreckage

A person sorts the damage of a home in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left
A person sorts the damage of a home in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left behind a path of destruction in 12 states. -- PHOTO: AFP
Employees of Voestalpine Rotec Inc. help clean the lot after the building was heavily damaged after Sunday's storms Monday, Nov 18, 2013, in Lafayette, Indiana. Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the US Midwest on Sunday, unle
Employees of Voestalpine Rotec Inc. help clean the lot after the building was heavily damaged after Sunday's storms Monday, Nov 18, 2013, in Lafayette, Indiana. Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the US Midwest on Sunday, unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees. -- PHOTO: AP
A resident jumps between debris while looking through a home in Washington, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, that was destroyed by a tornado the day before in this central Illinois town. The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brou
A resident jumps between debris while looking through a home in Washington, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, that was destroyed by a tornado the day before in this central Illinois town. The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states. Illinois was the hardest hit. The tornado damaged or destroyed as many as 500 homes in the town. -- PHOTO: AP
A resident searches through the debris of a home in Washington, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, that was destroyed by a tornado the day before in this central Illinois town. The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging
A resident searches through the debris of a home in Washington, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, that was destroyed by a tornado the day before in this central Illinois town. The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states. Illinois was the hardest hit. The tornado damaged or destroyed as many as 500 homes in the town. -- PHOTO: AP
A woman walks through the debris from the destruction caused by a tornado that touched down in Washington, Illinois, on Nov 18, 2013. A fast-moving storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that killed at least six people and flattened larg
A woman walks through the debris from the destruction caused by a tornado that touched down in Washington, Illinois, on Nov 18, 2013. A fast-moving storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that killed at least six people and flattened large parts of a town in Illinois as it tore across the Midwest, authorities said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
An aerial view shows the path of destruction caused by a tornado that touched down in Washington, Illinois, on Nov 18, 2013. A fast-moving storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that killed at least six people and flattened large parts o
An aerial view shows the path of destruction caused by a tornado that touched down in Washington, Illinois, on Nov 18, 2013. A fast-moving storm system triggered multiple tornadoes on Sunday that killed at least six people and flattened large parts of a town in Illinois as it tore across the Midwest, authorities said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Ms Rochelle Scott, right, hugs Ms Eunice Hausler while helping her recover her belongings in New Minden, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013. Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the US Midwest on Sunday, unleashing powerful winds
Ms Rochelle Scott, right, hugs Ms Eunice Hausler while helping her recover her belongings in New Minden, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013. Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the US Midwest on Sunday, unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees. -- PHOTO: AP
Residents burn storm debris from a home destroyed in Sunday's tornado on Monday, Nov 18, 2013. Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the US Midwest on Sunday, unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped
Residents burn storm debris from a home destroyed in Sunday's tornado on Monday, Nov 18, 2013. Dozens of tornadoes and intense thunderstorms swept across the US Midwest on Sunday, unleashing powerful winds that flattened entire neighborhoods, flipped over cars and uprooted trees. -- PHOTO: AP 
A truck lies on its side in a neighborhood in Washington, Illinois on Monday , Nov 18, 2013, after a tornado hit the area on Sunday damaging or destroying as many as 500 homes. One death was confirmed in the town as a result of the storm. Illinois wa
A truck lies on its side in a neighborhood in Washington, Illinois on Monday , Nov 18, 2013, after a tornado hit the area on Sunday damaging or destroying as many as 500 homes. One death was confirmed in the town as a result of the storm. Illinois was the hardest hit by the unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms that brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states. -- PHOTO: AP
This aerial view on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, two men walk through what is left of a home that was destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday. It was one of the worst-hit areas after intense storms and tornadoes swe
This aerial view on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, two men walk through what is left of a home that was destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday. It was one of the worst-hit areas after intense storms and tornadoes swept through Illinois. The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Washington had a preliminary rating of EF-4. -- PHOTO: AP
People survey the damage in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left behind a path of
People survey the damage in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left behind a path of destruction in 12 states. -- PHOTO: AFP
A person looks at the damage of a home in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left be
A person looks at the damage of a home in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left behind a path of destruction in 12 states. -- PHOTO: AFP
People survey the damage in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left behind a path of
People survey the damage in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left behind a path of destruction in 12 states. -- PHOTO: AFP
A person walks down the street amongst the damage in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midw
A person walks down the street amongst the damage in the Washington Estates sudivision in the aftermath of a tornado on Nov 18, 2013 in Washington, Illinois. A fast-moving storm system that produced several tornadoes that touched down across the Midwest left behind a path of destruction in 12 states. -- PHOTO: AP
Ben DuBois tries to salvage what he can from his home the day after a tornado destroyed his house on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, in Washington Illinois. The tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday was one of the worst-hit areas a
Ben DuBois tries to salvage what he can from his home the day after a tornado destroyed his house on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, in Washington Illinois. The tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday was one of the worst-hit areas after intense storms and tornadoes swept through Illinois. The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Washington had a preliminary rating of EF-4, meaning wind speeds of 170 mph to 190 mph. -- PHOTO: AP
Darin Burklund, an employee of Ehler Bros. Company, tosses broken lumber onto a pile outside a heavily damaged machine shed at Beverly Ehler's farm, one mile east of Thomasboro, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 The unusually powerful late-season wav
Darin Burklund, an employee of Ehler Bros. Company, tosses broken lumber onto a pile outside a heavily damaged machine shed at Beverly Ehler's farm, one mile east of Thomasboro, Illinois, on Monday, Nov 18, 2013 The unusually powerful late-season wave of thunderstorms brought damaging winds and tornadoes to 12 states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and western New York. -- PHOTO: AP
This aerial view on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, shows three people walking down a street where homes were destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday. It was one of the worst-hit areas after intense storms and tornadoe
This aerial view on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, shows three people walking down a street where homes were destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday. It was one of the worst-hit areas after intense storms and tornadoes swept through Illinois. The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Washington had a preliminary rating of EF-4. -- PHOTO: AP
This aerial view on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, shows homes that were destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday. It was one of the worst-hit areas after intense storms and tornadoes swept through Illinois. The Nation
This aerial view on Monday, Nov 18, 2013, shows homes that were destroyed by a tornado that hit the western Illinois town of Washington on Sunday. It was one of the worst-hit areas after intense storms and tornadoes swept through Illinois. The National Weather Service says the tornado that hit Washington had a preliminary rating of EF-4. -- PHOTO: AP

WASHINGTON, Illinois (REUTERS) - When a powerful tornado bore down on the small city of Washington, Illinois, on Sunday, Ryan Bowers took his wife's advice and sheltered in the basement with their 2 1/2 year-old daughter and their pet dogs.

Winds of up to 322kmh leveled their home, along with a large swath of the city of 15,000 people east of Peoria, but the Bowers survived, as did many of their neighbors.

The twister, part of a fast-moving storm that hammered much of the Midwest, killed eight people in Illinois and Michigan, but many survived thanks to quick reactions like Bowers' and because their homes had basements to flee to.

"I have to believe that 90 per cent of those people who survived were probably in their basement, taking cover, or at church," said Washington Mayor Gary Manier, who noted that he was among the many town residents who took refuge in church basements when they heard tornado warning sirens.

"We thank God that our community listened and took heed,"Mr Manier said, standing in a destroyed section of Washington where bits of American flags and insulation from destroyed houses clung to trees that had been stripped of most of their branches and remaining leaves by the storm.

Mr Bowers, 33, said that he normally disregarded tornado warnings but headed to his basement after seeing the debris cloud barreling toward his house.

"I ran back inside, ran in the basement, not 15 seconds later our basement windows were sucked in and everything was twirling about," said Bowers. "Everything was white and all I could hear was snapping ... Things were dropping on top of me and splitting in two."

He and his wife Andrea, 32, briefly returned on Monday to retrieve a family Bible and a pink baby rattle that was their daughter Sydney's favorite toy.

UP TO 500 HOMES DAMAGED

As they were sorting through the wreckage, a police officer approached and told them to leave.

Authorities had closed the destroyed area, where buildings were reduced to rubble and cars were turned upside down, out of concern that people could be injured while attempting to retrieve possessions.

Mr Jonathan Monken, director of the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), said officials would allow people to return to the affected area after they confirmed it was safe.

"The sooner we can get residents in the better," Mr Monken said. "We want to be able to get that debris cleared so we can start that process of rebuilding as soon as possible."

Mr Manier estimated that 250 to 500 homes had been damaged by the tornado, rated as the second-most powerful magnitude of twister, which hit the city east of Peoria with winds of 267-322kmh.

The storm killed three people in Massac County, two in Washington County and one in the city of Washington, in Tazewell County, said Ms Patti Thompson of the IMEA.

Illinois State Police spokesman Dustin Pierce said about 120 people were injured in Washington.

An 80-year-old man and his 78-year-old sister were killed in Washington County, about 320km south of Peoria, County Coroner Mark Styninger said.

The three were killed in Massac County on the Kentucky border when a tornado devastated several neighbourhoods, emergency officials said.

Rescue workers in central Michigan found the body of a 59-year-old man entangled in downed power lines on Sunday night.

The man went outside to investigate a noise, according to Shiawassee County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant David Kirk.

A 21-year-old man was killed on Sunday night when a tree fell on his car in the central Michigan town of Leslie, said Jackson County Sheriff Steven Rand. It was unclear whether the man struck the tree while driving or if high winds in the area toppled the tree, Mr Rand said.

The storm also damaged homes and building in Indiana and Kentucky, though no fatalities were reported in those states.

The unusual late-season storms moved dangerously fast, tracking east at 97kmh, with the bulk of the damage spanning about five hours, Mr Thompson said.

BASEMENT SAFE HAVENS

Survivors said they rode out the storm in their basements, which are common in homes in the affected area, a fact that may have helped hold down the death toll, officials said. In May, a monster, top-category tornado killed 24 people in Moore, Oklahoma, a part of the United States where basements are less common.

Ms Nancy Rampy, 62, said she fled to her basement when she heard the storm sirens blaring on Sunday.

"I heard what sounded like 12 trains just roaring down the tracks, and it just wouldn't stop. It just kept coming and coming," Ms Rampy said. "I ran to the basement, sat in the basement with my flashlight in the dark and just prayed, 'Let it be over soon.'" Ms Rampy's house was spared.

"The good news is the tornado warning system worked, so there wasn't a lot of loss of life," said US Representative Aaron Schock, a Republican whose district includes Washington, Illinois. "These people knew what was coming, and they were smart and took cover."