Tornadoes rip through university, Iowa, Illinois

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) – Tornadoes tore across the University of Iowa campus, ripped walls off a downtown church and killed a woman in a mobile home outside of town.

The National Weather Service said five tornados touched down in Johnson County on Thursday night, the most destructive carving a 3½-mile path of damage through downtown and the university. High winds, hail and at least one tornado hit Illinois as well.

“There was debris flying everywhere inside the house,” said Melissa Fortman, an Iowa sophomore who huddled with friends in the basement of the Alpha Chi Omega house as the sirens sounded. She then decided to run upstairs for her homework just as the tornado hit.

“I couldn’t go down stairs because there was debris and glass flying up the stairs, so I just hid in a telephone booth we have in our house and I just hid there crying,” she told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Entire walls of the sorority house were gone and the interior of several rooms were visible from the street. Two cars had been tossed into a nearby ravine, and glass, debris and tree limbs littered the neighborhood.

The twisters swept across eastern Iowa, with the worst damage from Iowa City southeast through Nichols, about 20 miles away, the National Weather Service said.

“We have a path in the Nichols area that’s four to five miles long,” said Maj. Dave White of the Muscatine County sheriff’s office.

He said the tornado hit farms and a mobile home with a man and woman inside.

“It blew it off the foundation and the trailer rolled and basically disintegrated,” White said. The woman, whose identity was not released, died in the storm.

Gov. Tom Vilsack declared a state of emergency for Johnson, Jones and Muscatine counties.

In Iowa City, 30 people were reported treated at hospitals for storm-related injuries.

Downtown, half the roof of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church was torn off. Store windows were shattered, some buildings were partially collapsed and homes and apartments were heavily damaged.

Thousands of homes in Iowa and Illinois were without power, but utility officials said it was expected to be restored by midday Saturday.

Illinois was hit by high winds and hail, and the weather service confirmed one tornado touched down in Lincoln early Friday morning.

“We had lot of hail with this whole system, from Galesburg southeast to Champaign and Vermilion counties,” said Chris Geelhart, a weather service meteorologist based in Lincoln. “Some of it did get up to the size of baseballs.”

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