A vehicles sits in the debris of a home after a tornado ripped through a neighbourhood in Harrisburg, Illinois
A deadly string of tornadoes cut a swath of destruction across the US mid-west, killing at least 11 people and threatening scores more as a massive storm pushed eastward early Thursday.
Homes were smashed to bits, cars were tossed into lakes, trees were uprooted and shops were reduced to rubble in towns from Nebraska to Kentucky as the powerful system whipped up strong winds, hail and ominous funnel clouds, reports AFP.
The town of Harrisburg, Illinois was the hardest hit after it was ripped apart by a deadly twister that stayed on the ground for miles, striking while most were still sleeping at around 4:30 am (1030 GMT) on Wednesday.
At least six people were killed and more than 100 injured in this southern Illinois town of 9,000.
The monster twister packed winds up to 170 miles (270 kilometres) per hour and damaged or destroyed up to 300 homes and 25 businesses, smashing a strip mall to bits and tearing a wall off the local hospital.
"A lot of the houses are unreal, it's like a war zone," fire chief Bill Summers told reporters.
Rescue crews were digging through the rubble to search for survivors, but Summers said that by late afternoon all those reported missing had been accounted for.
Harrisburg mayor, Eric Gregg called the destruction and loss of life "devastating" and vowed to protect and care for those who were hurt and displaced.
"Dealing with a tornado like this is heartbreaking," he said at a press conference.
"We will build this city. We will make this city strong. This will not stop us. It will make us stronger."
Angela Capps was among those who sought shelter at the First Baptist Church.
A neighbour called her to warn her of the twister, so Capps and her children were able to take cover and escape injury.
"We haven't cried yet, for the kids," Capps said as she sat with her neighbour while their children played nearby at the Harrisburg shelter.
"I'm sure we'll go in the bathroom eventually and bawl our eyes out."
The National Weather Service has received 30 reports of tornadoes in six states since the storm began Tuesday, battering Nebraska and Kansas before rolling eastward to Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.
Severe thunderstorms pounded Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina and Tennessee Wednesday before drifting towards the eastern seaboard.
"It's a very large storm," said Corey Mead, lead forecaster for the weather service's storm prediction centre Wednesday.
The governor of Illinois issued a state of emergency and went to Harrisburg to tour the damage.
"My heart goes out to the victims of this devastating storm, and I would like to thank the many people who have stepped up and volunteered to aid their neighbours," Governor Pat Quinn said.