CHICAGO (AFP) - At least five people were killed and dozens more hurt as severe storms and violent tornadoes battered the US Midwest on Sunday, and officials warned the toll would rise.
Flights were grounded and tens of thousands of homes lost power as intense winds overturned cars, uprooted large trees and snapped power lines. Large swaths of the city of Washington, Illinois, were flattened.
President Barack Obama was briefed about the storms and will receive regular updates, the White House said.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency chief Jonathon Monken told CNN at leave five people had been killed - including two in the far southern tip of the state and one in Washington - as he warned that the number of injuries would likely increase "significantly."
At least two of the victims were killed in the small town of New Minden, Washington County Coroner Mark Styninger told AFP.
Joseph Hoy, 80, was found dead on his farm while his 78-year-old sister Frances was pronounced dead in hospital.
"It just happened so fast," said Styninger, who lives just three kilometers from the Hoy farm.
Local television reported at least 37 people were being treated by a medical center in Illinois, seven of them with "severe" injuries.
Monken said at least 70 homes were completely destroyed in two different areas, and hundreds were damaged less severely. Four Red Cross shelters have been opened in the affected zone.
The dangerous weather caused the National Football League to suspend a game in Chicago, asking fans and players to take cover in the stadium. The game resumed almost two hours later.
In Indiana, local media reported damage to commercial buildings, including a destroyed bank branch.
More than 64,600 homes lost power, according to Duke Energy. In the metropolitan area of the state capital Indianapolis, Indianapolis Power & Light reported nearly 16,000 without power.
"Absolute destruction," WMBD31 news reporter Alexandra Sutter wrote on Twitter in describing the scene.
Sutter later tweeted, after speaking with the mayor of the storm-hit town of Washington: "I asked what we can report to help. He said only 'please pray.'"
The CBS television affiliate for Central Illinois where she works said that its studio, which also hosts the local Fox affiliate, lost signal after a power hit to its transmitter.
A photo posted on the station's Facebook page showed someone holding a tennis ball-sized piece of hail.
"Pay attention to all weather alerts and stay home and inside if possible," Illinois Governor Pat Quinn warned residents, adding that the severe weather was "very serious."
In Washington, Michelle Cumrine came back from a trip to find that her house was completely gone.
"Our house was just beyond the deck," Cumrine said in disbelief as she stared at the rubble.
"A lot of people have a pile of rubble still. I don't have anything. It's gone. I don't know where it went."
The National Weather Service warned of a "potentially very dangerous situation," with tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail forecast over parts of the Ohio and middle Mississippi Valley region as well as the southern Great Lakes region into the night.
Flights at Chicago's international airport were delayed by an average of 2.5 hours and grounded at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport.