(With additional reporting from The Associated Press and Illinois Public Radio)
Gov. Pat Quinn has activated the State Emergency Operations Center after a tornado left six people dead in the southern Illinois city of Harrisburg, and about a hundred others injured.
The storm has caused heavy damage in Saline and Gallatin counties and more than 12,000 Ameren Illinois customers have lost power.
Quinn toured Harrisburg on Wednesday to survey the damage. Quinn said Illinoisans have to band together "as a family.''
"Those men and women who went to bed last night and lost their lives in this tornado, we pray for their souls and we pray for their families," Quinn said. "I think it's important for us as a family in Illinois to come together and honor their lives and mourn their loss."
His disaster declaration will make recovery resources available to affected areas of Saline County. Quinn's office said earlier Wednesday that the governor would survey the storm damage.
The governor said President Barack Obama called after waking up to news of a disaster in his home state.
Quinn also said he hopes God will bless the "immortal souls'' of those who died. Quinn said Illinoisans have to band together "as a family.''
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency earlier reported that 10 were dead, but the agency said that information was incorrect.
Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson said Harrisburg authorities say they have accounted for everyone and outside search-and-rescue teams have been called off. Thompson said specially trained rescue teams from emergency-response agencies in Charleston, Marion, St. Clair County, Springfield and Urbana were on their way to Harrisburg on Wednesday but have been told to return. She said outside agencies have supplied light poles and nine ambulances, however.
Jennifer Fuller, of Illinois Public Radio, was in front of the Harrisburg Medical Center. Fuller said that when she canvased the city, she saw "entire neighborhoods destroyed." She said she saw some trees split in half next to piles of rubble that used to be homes.
"It's devastating for these people," Fuller reported.
She noted that because the severe storms - it is not yet confirmed if they spun tornadoes - moved through Harrisburg in the early morning, it's possible some people were asleep.
"It's ironic," Fuller said. "Just this week the Illinois Emergency Management Agency was telling people to be ready for storm season in March and to have those weather radios handy."
Harrisburg resident Margaret Shimkus' home was nearly destroyed by the pre-dawn storm that ripped through theregion says she had to run to take shelter in her bathtub. Shimkus described the moment the storm hit at around 5 a.m. Wednesday, recalling how she was awoken by the sound of loud crashing and shattering glass.
Shimkus first tried to get under her bed, but then ran to her bathtub as parts of the building blew apart. The 61-year-old woman said only the walls of her duplex were left standing. Besides a cut on her leg from flying glass, she wasn't seriously hurt. Four other apartments in her complex were destroyed.
Harrisburg Mayor Eric Gregg promised that his southern Illinois city will rebuild. He said the community "will make this city stronger.''
Gregg called the tornado "heartbreaking'' and said city officials are doing everything they can to protect citizens. He said the city will make sure everyone is accounted for.
State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) led the General Assembly in observing a moment of silence. Legislators from southern Illinois, including Sen. Gary Forby (D-Benton) and Rep. Brandon Phelps (D-Harrisburg), are back in their districts.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Collinsville) said he will visit southern Illinois areas devastated by the powerful tornado.
"I was saddened to learn of the loss of lives and such violent damage in Harrisburg and other areas of Southern Illinois," Shimkus said in a statement. "My thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost loved ones and those who were hurt or lost their homes or businesses."
Severe weather warnings are still pending for parts of southern Illinois that have been pounded by a deadly tornado.
Meteorologist Beverly Poole said the National Weather Service office in Paducah, Ky., was still issuing warnings late Wednesday morning.
The storm system that produced multiple reports of tornadoes struck early Wednesday, violently sweeping across the region as people slept. Poole said the storm system hit locations in all four states, and more than 50 warnings have been issued.
The National Weather Service has given the tornado an EF4 rating. That's the second-strongest rating given to tornadoes.
Sideshow of the storm damage in Harrisburg, Ill. (Courtesy of The Associated Press)
Video of the damage in Harrisburg, Ill. (Courtesy of WSIL-TV)
The U.S. Supreme Court is once again deciding to stay out of the fight over invasive Asian carp.
The high court on Monday shot down an appeal from Michigan and four other Great Lakes states. The states are suing the Army Corps of Engineers and the City of Chicago.
The states had wanted the court to order that fish nets be laid out to prevent Asian carp from swimming into Lake Michigan. They also wanted an order saying the Army Corps of Engineers has to hurry up with a plan to isolate carp-infested waterways.
John Sellek, with the Michigan Attorney General's office, said Monday's denial from the justices is disappointing.
"Asian carp are, essentially, right at downtown Chicago," Sellek said. "They are lurking about and about to go into the Great Lakes. And that's something that would be detriment to - not just the other states, but to Illinois, as well."
Sellek says Michigan will now try other legal methods meant to prevent the hungry fish from devouring the Great Lakes ecosystem.
The Army Corps and the state of Illinois have maintained the threat posed by carp is not as drastic as the other states would argue.
Monday's ruling marks the third time Supreme Court justices have opted to stay out of the fight over the spread of Asian carp. The high court had earlier denied emergency requests to close down some Chicago-area waterways that link Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
Sewers are among the basic of city services --- and one of the least exciting, until something goes wrong. City officials in Champaign and Urbana have seen enough flooding over the years, that they're proposing a new fee to pay for maintaining and improving the storm sewer system --- a fee already used by about a dozen Illinois cities. Illinois Public Media's Jim Meadows has more on the storm water utility fee.
Illinois is getting more than $7.7 million to help cover the costs of repairing roads and bridges damaged by last year's flooding and windstorms.
Gov. Pat Quinn and Sen. Dick Durbin announced Monday that the money will be coming from the U.S. Department of Transportation's emergency-relief funds.
The Illinois Department of Transportation will dole out more than $4.7 million to help northwest Illinois communities affected last July by strong wind and rains that totaled more than 12 inches. That's meant to defray costs of repairing drainage and roadway washouts, in addition to slope failures.
Southern Illinois communities affected by widespread heavy rain and flooding last spring largely along the Mississippi and Ohio rivers will get roughly $3 million.
Starved Rock is located in Utica, Illinois - a two hour drive southwest from Chicago. It's a popular destination for fishing, rock climbing, hiking and picnicking.
Tony Giordano said a new silica sand mine adjacent to the park would mean new jobs and could inject $9 million into the local economy. He's the president of Mississippi Sand, the company proposing the mine. It mines a special kind of sandstone found in this part of the state and sell it to companies who frac for natural gas around the United States.
Giordano said he's not surprised that people are concerned about what the mine could mean for Starved Rock.
"We don't believe in any way that our utilization of our proposed parcel will negatively impact anybody within the park," he said. Giordano added that regulatory bodies are in place to make sure of that, too.
But environmentalists worry about its effects on the local ecology. Mike Phillips is a Geology Professor at Illinois Valley Community College and said the mine would hurt 73 acres of wetlands.
"The process of creating the mine will de-water part of that wetland initially and then the mine plan has them mining most of it," Phillips said.
Phillips said the aesthetic value of the park is at risk, too, "If there's noise, if there's dust, if you can feel vibrations from the occasional explosions at the mine - what would the value of that be? And that's very, very difficult to determine."
Phillips said he and many others he's spoken to learned about the proposed mine in November. He's hoping LaSalle County will slow the process down of issuing permits to the mining company and that they'll first make a comprehensive assessment of how a mine may impact the ecology and economy of Starved Rock, as many people's make their livings off the park's tourism.
The LaSalle County Board voted unanimously for the mine in December and they could make a final recommendation next week.
Different communities are asking residents to recycle their Christmas trees instead of throwing them out.
The Champaign County Forest Preserve has set up tree drop off points at three of its forest preserves in Mahomet, Penfield, and Homer. Trees can be dropped off through Jan. 20.
The forest preserve's Director of Natural Resources, Daniel Olson said some of the donated trees are put underwater in lakes and rivers, so that fish can have a place to hide. Meanwhile, he said other donated trees are used to provide nutrients to existing vegetation.
"We chip a lot of it into mulch, and then we do put it around our tree that helps with the health of the tree," Olson said. "It helps with the longevity of how long that tree will be around."
Olson said tree giving appears to be down this year, but he said he expects it to pick up soon.
Urbana is also reminding people to recycle their Christmas trees this season. Each year, the city collects around 1,600 Christmas trees for its annual recycling program.
Urbana Environmental Sustainability Manager Bart Hagston said during the first couple of weeks of January, residents should leave their trees out on the curb before 6 a.m. on days when their recycling is picked up.
"Well, to preserve landfill space, we like to keep these trees out of the waste stream and they also help to provide material which can be used for landscaping projects and that's why we like to send them out to the landscaping recycling center where they'll be grounded up," Hagston said.
People who do not live in Urbana can still recycle their Christmas trees through the city by dropping them off at the Urbana Recycling Center at 1210 E University Ave.
The city of Champaign has a similar recycling program in place from Jan. 2 through Jan. 13. Residents can leave their trees within four feet of the curb by 6:00 a.m. on their scheduled collection date.
Danville city officials will also be collecting Christmas trees from curbs from Jan. 3 through Jan. 13. The trees will be collected and processed through the city's yard waste recycling program. Questions may be directed to Danville Public Works - Solid Waste Division at 431-2288.
People interested in recycling their trees in any of these communities are reminded not to include any extra debris, like tree stands or ornaments.
An environmental group in Illinois says it's happy that the federal government is following Illinois' lead in requiring power plants to cut down on mercury levels.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would force hundreds of the nation's power plants to control mercury and other toxic pollutants.
Max Muller with Environment Illinois said the state passed its own mercury restrictions in 2006, and they have proven to be successful.
"We've shown that in Illinois that mercury can be reduced cheaply, that the lights aren't going to go out, and it does in fact yield very good results in terms of decreasing mercury pollution on the environment that harms health," Muller said.
Muller said the new federal standards are expected to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by more than 90 percent.
But the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity has come out against the plan, saying it will destroy jobs and raise energy rates.
A research project studying a method to keep carbon dioxide emissions out of the atmosphere got down to business this week. After three years of preparations, the Illinois Basin-Decatur project began injecting CO2 from an ethanol plant into the ground more than a mile deep.
Robert Finley with the Illinois Geological Survey at the University of Illinois' Prairie Research Institute said the CO2 injections will continue for another three years, until a million metric tons of the gas is embedded in the massive Mount Simon underground sandstone formation. Finley said Mount Simon offers a big potential at a place for storing CO2 emissions.
"The Mt Simon sandstone at Decatur is 1,650 feet thick, and we'll be storing only in the lower several hundred feet of this unit, and this rock unit is quite laterally extensive," Finley explained. "It covers most of Illinois, southwestern Indiana and western Kentucky."
The Illinois Basin-Decatur project is located on the Archer Daniels Midland campus in Decatur, and uses CO2 from an ADM ethanol plant. The U of I's Illinois State Geological Survey is the lead agency for the project, which is one of seven around the country funded by the U-S Department of Energy, and the second to begin actual sequestration. Finley said the carbon sequestration process has started smoothly --- and the long-term question is whether the gas can be pumped underground continuously without leaking.
He said their findings will be applied to another, larger carbon sequestration project, for which ADM is taking the lead. A training and education center for the larger project is being built at Decatur's Richland Community College.
Eventually, Finley said the experience and knowledge gained from the projects at Decatur can help other carbon sequestration projects --- like the FutureGen project which will bury CO-2 emissions from a coal plant in western Illinois.