(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)
After two years of discussion, the Champaign City Council is poised to start up a stormwater utility fee. Final action is expected in April following approval in a study session Tuesday night.
The 7 -2 vote followed nearly two hours of comments, most of them backing something that all homeowners and businesses would pay into.
The measure has been proposed as far back as 1996, and studied for the past two years as a means for developing plans to upgrade the city's storm sewer system, impacting neighborhoods that that flood regularly. Jim Creighton is with the West Washington Street steering committee, a neighborhood that has regularly suffered during heavy rains.
"If you've ever had a flat tire you know the sinking feeling in your stomach when it happens," he said. "Multiply that by 100 times. And that's what your first flood feels like. Now live in the neighborhood for 40 years, and have it happen 10, 20, 30 times."
The upgraded storm sewer system would cost owners of single-family homes and duplexes about $5 a month, but higher amounts would depend on the impervious area of property owners. Paul Orama with the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce suggested a fee of its own that could cut the amounts businesses pay by 50-percent.
Council member Deb Frank Feinen, a small business owner herself, says she understands the reasoning.
"But I also think that this is a fair way to provide needed infrastructure that is a citywide responsibility," she said. "And basing it on impervious area in my opinion makes it fair."
But council members Paul Faraci and Kyle Harrison voted against the fee, saying current language offering incentives and credits for non-residential properties aren't enough, and could force small businesses into leaving town.
"We can ill afford to lose if they (businesses) are so negatively impacted that we lose sales tax, we lose jobs, because they have to close, God forbid," Faraci said, a former small business owner.
Champaign Public Works Director Dennis Schmidt says if the council approves the rate ordinance in about a month in a half, then some tweaking can happen with those credits and incentives such as rain barrels and detention basins.
The University of Illinois' Campustown area is days away from the weekend bar promotion known as Unofficial St. Patrick's Day.
Champaign Police Lieutenant Brad Yohnka says public safety remains the top priority, with more focus now on private parties, as many off-campus visitors come to the area. He says the U of I has done a great job stepping up security in buildings, and bars have been less of a concern since the entry age was raised to 21 over the weekend.
Yohnka says the nuisance parties are the biggest problem, with officers focused on those who invite underage drinking.
"If you're going to host a party, keep it small, keep it legal, and only alllow invited guests in," Yohnka said. "We're trying to get them to think more like a Super Bowl event. There are a lot of Super Bowl parties, and we don't add one additional officer. But this event is become people come from out of town who have no relationship with the community. They're the ones coming into town causing the problems and all the damage."
Yohnka says anyone caught hosting a party with underage drinkers will face state charges as well as a city ordinance violation. While celebrations in other cities are tied to sports or a charity, Champaign Mayor Don Gerard notes this one is based on binge drinking, and it's up to students if they want to make it something responsible.
But Gerard says the focus should be on such behavior, and not temporarily shutting down the businesses responsible for the 'Unofficial' promotion.
"To those who have come swooping in, saying we should just close down all the bars, I am a fantastic advocate of not having big goverment control our lives," he said. "And I think that would be absolutely the most egregiously irresponsible thing we could do to our local businesses."
Yohnka says police agencies will also place new signage in Campustown this weekend, alerting motorists to slow down or avoid the area altogether. Police will also use additional foot patrols, with about 100 officers in the area from Champaign, Urbana, the U of I, Illinois State Police, and Parkland College.
A union seeking to block Indiana's new right-to-work law is asking a federal judge to issue an emergency temporary restraining order to keep the state from enforcing the law.
Marc Poulos, an attorney for the Foundation of Fair Contracting, said Tuesday that U.S. District Judge Philip Simon will hold a hearing Monday in Hammond on the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150's motion for a temporary restraining order.
The legislation signed into law last month by Gov. Mitch Daniels bans labor contracts that require workers to pay union representation fees.
The union motion filed Monday asks Simon to find that the law will cause irreparable harm and to enter a temporary restraining order preventing enforcement of its prohibitions. It also seeks a preliminary injunction hearing as soon as possible.
A Chicago man has been ordered to spend a year and four months in federal prison for threatening to bomb Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus and kill 4,000 students and staff.
Twenty-three-year-old Maurice Wiggins was sentenced Monday in East St. Louis on a felony charge of making a bomb threat. He pleaded guilty in November.
Authorities contend Wiggins was upset about the break-up with his SIU-student girlfriend last August when he made the threat via a message from his cell phone to the 20,000-student university's crime-watch website.
Wiggins allegedly said he planned to bomb three dormitories and a student center.
Authorities say Wiggins also left a message with campus police, threatening to rape and kill 30 female students.
Champaign Police say two robberies that occurred on West Bloomington Road last week share a lot of similarities.
The first one occurred Friday, Feb. 24, at the Security Finance office at 823 West Bloomington Rd. Police say a man entered, demanded money from a female employee, and then knocked her down and took her to the rear of the business. He fled with a undisclosed amount of cash.
Then on Saturday, Feb. 25, police say a man entered the America's Financial Choice office next door at 821 W. Bloomington Rd., and attacked a female employee, taking her to the rear of the business. In this case, the victim said she was stunned or Tasered by the man. Again, police say the man left with an undisclosed amount of money. A security camera captured images of the suspect --- one of which is shown above.
Champaign Police that in both robberies, the victims gave similar descriptions of their attackers --- but with specific differences.
The attacker in the Security Finance first robbery is described as a black male, between 40-50 years old, weighing 180 pounds, approximately 5'5" tall and waring a black Carhart-like hooded coat, dark pants and dark-colored shoes. Police say the suspect also had a thin mustache and wore gloves during the robbery.
In the America's Financial Choice robbery, the suspect is described as a black male, with a height of 5'11", weighing approximately 200 pounds, and in his 40's. He was wearing a red "hoodie", black sunglasses and lighter colored blue jeans.
Champaign Police is asking anyone with information on these robberies to contact the department at 217-351-4545, or contact Champaign Crime Stoppers anonymously at 217-373-8477 or by texting keyword "CCTIP" plus the information to 274637 (CRIMES).
The chair of the University of Illinois' Board of Trustees is defending University President Michael Hogan, who has been asked to resign by 130 professors on the Urbana campus.
In a letter, Chairman Chris Kennedy addresses the points raised by faculty who called on President Hogan to step down.
Regarding allegations that Hogan interfered with discussions by the Faculty Senates Conference concerning his enrollment management plan, Kennedy says information Hogan received from those deliberations was obtained in a lawful manner.
Faculty also criticize the President for allowing his former chief of staff to stay with the U of I as a full-time tenured professor, after she resigned amid an investigation into emails sent to the Senates Conference concerning Hogan's enrollment policy. Kennedy said details about the employment agreement were hashed out a year and a half ago.
Professors also accuse Hogan of bullying Urbana's chancellor to quell faculty opposition to the enrollment policy.
While Kennedy doesn't address that allegation directly, he does say there is a need for mutual respect and dialogue regarding shared governance.
Meanwhile, University spokesman Tom Hardy said President Hogan will likely accept an invitation from faculty leaders to address their concerns.
The Board of Trustees is slated to meet on the Urbana campus on March 15.
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.
East central Illinois has become a popular location for wind farms, with several facilities up and running and more being proposed. Illinois Public Media's Jeff Bossert visited wind farms in Ford and Iroquois Counties. He spoke with residents, officials and experts to learn why the region is such a draw for wind energy, and if the benefits outweigh the concerns.