By JIM SUHR, Associated Press
HARRISBURG, Ill. (AP) — Kera Wise picked through the fragments of her aunt and uncle's tornado-ruined home with a determined hustle under clear skies that weather forecasters warned soon might again turn dark and dangerous.
Wise figured she had little time to waste Thursday as she stuffed photo albums and what few other items she could retrieve into plastic sacks, hell-bent on rounding up her aunt's prized trove of Elvis paraphernalia and Beanie Babies. With daylight about to fade roughly the same time she would be forced out by a curfew in southern Illinois' storm-savaged Harrisburg, she knew another dose of nasty weather could ruin whatever she couldn't salvage immediately.
"You just keep thinking, 'God, please don't let there be another tornado,'" said Wise, 35, whose aunt and uncle remained hospitalized in neighboring Indiana, her uncle in bad shape from bleeding on the brain, a collapsed lung, torn spleen and broken ribs.
Such was the scramble in devastated portions of Harrisburg, the 9,000-resident town sacked by a twister about 5 a.m. Wednesday that killed six people, many of them in the neighborhood where Wise's aunt and uncle live. The onslaught was part of a storm system that raked the Midwest and South, killing 13 people in four states.
Damaged communities tried to take advantage of the brief break in the weather Thursday, mindful of forecasts that severe storms were expected to roll through the region again sometime after midnight and linger into Friday.
An Oklahoma meteorologist had warned that by Friday, both regions would again be "right in the bull's eye." But the National Weather Service's Jayson Wilson in Paducah, Ky., softened that dire outlook Thursday night, saying the likelihood of southern Illinois seeing another supercell — the kind that spawns a twister — Friday "is looking less and less."
While still cautioning people in the region to remain vigilant, noting the unpredictability of severe storms, "if anything happens it will be an isolated cell here and there."
"It will be the luck of the draw as far as where they develop," Wilson said. "If there's a bull's eye, it's moved farther east, smack in the center of Kentucky and dipping into the center portion of Tennessee. It's a massive circle, but nowhere in that circle is southern Illinois," which he said probably will see thunderstorms.
"But the threat there doesn't seem as promised," he said.
That outlook didn't matter much to Amanda Patrick, who lost her home Wednesday in the same twister that killed her beloved neighbors across Brady Street, the neighborhood where most of the fatalities occurred.
"I don't know what to tell you other than I take it one moment, one day at a time," Patrick, 31, said a day after riding out the storm in the bathtub she barely was able to crawl into for shelter before the twister hit.
She considers herself blessed, having thought the sirens that wailed as the tornado barreled down on her neighborhood was actually part of her dream. She awakened just minutes before the tornado hit and hours later couldn't stop sobbing over losing neighbors.
"I'm not crying as much now. I'm here right now, standing," she said Thursday. "Now, I will get up every time I hear a siren."
A couple blocks away, outside their four-bedroom home where two large oak trees still were atop the roof, Levi Fogle and Sarah Pearce had a sense of resignation and perhaps apathy about word that more storms were possible.
The National Weather Service listed Wednesday's twister as an EF4, the second-highest rating given to twisters based on damage. Scientists said it was 200 yards wide with winds up to 170 mph. To Pearce, it couldn't get much worse.
"What more could any more of this do to my house?" said 21-year-old Pearce, who along with Fogle work at the local Walmart that has been shuttered due to damage. The twister left the couple and their three young daughters unscathed.
"God held my house up, there's no doubt about that," she said as Fogle strummed a guitar, shaking it at times to jingle the glass fragments left inside the instrument from being in his car's backseat when the storm hit.