Tornadoes tear path of destruction through parts of midwest US

Several large tornadoes sliced across the midwest of the United States on Thursday night, leaving one person dead and injuring up to dozens more as towns near Chicago and Rockford, Illinois, were flattened.

The small town of Fairdale was hardly standing Friday morning, after 17 of its 50 buildings were obliterated by the vortex, which also left one resident, 67-year-old Geraldine M. Schultz, dead.

Residents sheltering in their basements were left trapped as buildings collapsed on top of them. According to local authorities, every single structure in the tiny, unincorporated town was damaged by the raging winds.

According to CNN, as many as 14 tornadoes were reported in the rural Midwest on Thursday. A large and dangerous twister tore across fields in Iowa. And a twister touched down 90km outside St Louis.

Many residents of the large area where tornadoes barreled through barns and trees were grateful to be unharmed, but some lost entire homes to the funnels.

Ogle County sheriff Brian VanVickle told reporters a tornado destroyed about 20 buildings, including his own home, and significantly damaged 50 to 100 more.

Rockford fire chief Matt Knott said “essentially every structure has sustained some damage” in Fairdale, and added that some homes were “down to the slabs”.

“This town is absolutely devastated,” he said. Rescue teams are still scrambling to account for the residents of the pummelled community.

Hail stones the size of tennis balls plummeted down on Ashton, Illinois.

The true extent of destruction wrought by the Midwestern tornadoes became clear on Friday as the severe weather risk swung east.

Forecasters predicted thunderstorms and high winds from New York City to Florida, with the entire Gulf Coast also at risk - though more tornadoes are thought to be unlikely.

At least two tornadoes tore across Illinois on Thursday, churning through six counties in the centre of the state, according to the National Weather Service.

Three teams of storm surveyors have been dispatched to the area to asses the extent of the damage.

North of Rochelle, Illinois, a restaurant was ripped apart by the storm as patrons were eating inside, but despite the damage – the wind overturned a tractor trailer outside – none were seriously harmed.

A dozen people hid in the basement as the restaurant collapsed above them, and then waited for 90 minutes before teams could free them.

Lindsey Clark, a reporter from CNN affiliate WREX-TV in Rockford, said rescuers were pulling trapped people from a home in the Rochelle area.

The tornadoes were produced by so-call supercell thunderstorms, which are responsible for some of the nation's most destructive weather.

Robin Biggs, an employee at the Super 8 motel in Rochelle, said she took video of the storm, which she said "took everything out in its path".

Tom Purdy witnessed the storm as it touched down in his nearby city of Ashton, Illinois, saying: “I have lived here 18 years and I have never seen a tornado that big or stay on the ground that long.”

At Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, about 96km away from Fairdale, more than 850 flights were cancelled, as were dozens more at Midway International.

Severe thunderstorms are possible Friday afternoon or evening from parts of the mid-Atlantic region to the Gulf Coast states.