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Tornado touches down in central Illinois

VANDALIA, Ill. – The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado touched down Tuesday afternoon in central Illinois.

Members of the Schwarm family were putting their lives back together after a tornado destroyed homes and buildings just south of Vandalia, Illinois in Fayette County. The home was in their family for five generations.

“It sounds just like a locomotive,” said Gene Schwarm.

His home and been remodeled many times but could not stand up to the tornado. Gene and his wife, Ann, ran to the basement. Ann escaped being seriously injured or even killed. She was in an upstairs closet just before the tornado hit the house.

“Right where I had been sitting a moment before the chimney came through,” Ann Schwarm said.

Debris was scattered across farm fields. A telephone pole snapped in two and shingles were ripped from roofs.

“We’ve ended up with four home damaged, lots of out buildings, numerous power lines down,” Fayette County Sheriff Chris Smith said.

The National Weather Service sent out a damage survey team and determined it was an EF-2 tornado. Experts said it was a skinny twister, but powerful.

“This one looked like it was very compact and strong when it hit things, it really caused some damage," said Jim Sieveking, National Weather Service.

A horse trailer was blown more than a football field away. The roof of the garage was removed. Rooms inside homes were exposed to the elements. Volunteers from a newly trained emergency response team at the First United Methodist Church went to work.

Amy Vieregge and her husband, J.D., were among the volunteers.

"We want to give back and help other people when they go through this and we're available to help," she said.

It turned out Gene and Ann Schwarm went through the emergency response training Saturday.

“We knew that there would be a disaster, that we would one day want to go help with; little did we know the disaster would be here,” Ann Schwarm said.

The head of the Emergency Operation Center in Fayette County said volunteers were great in situations like this, but trained ones are even better. The twister spun up so quickly the National Weather Service could not issue a warning although they did tell people there was a tornado watch underway.

Vandalia, Illinois is located approximately 69 miles northeast of St. Louis.