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Tornado death toll rises to 8



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CNN's Chris Lawrence reports from Utica, Illinois, where a tornado left eight people dead.

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UTICA, Illinois (CNN) -- The death toll from Tuesday evening's tornadoes rose to eight Wednesday afternoon, LaSalle County Coroner Jody Bernard said.

All of the bodies were recovered from the Milestone Tavern, a bar that was located on the ground floor of the three-story building that collapsed during the tornadoes Tuesday night.

Bernard said that the bodies were found in "various locations within the rubble." She also indicated that no other people are missing from the site "at this time."

The coroner identified the dead as: Lawrence "Larry" Ventrice Sr. 49; Wayne Ball, 63; Mary Ann Ventrice, 50; Beverly Wood, 67; Helen Menke, 81; Carol J. Schultheis, 40; Mike Miller, 18; and Jay Vezain, 47.

Initially the rescue effort looked promising -- nine survivors, including four children, were pulled from the building within hours of the collapse.

However, three bodies were found in the rubble of the building overnight, a fourth death was confirmed early Wednesday afternoon, and the other four were found later in the day.

Rescuers had to go slowly as they searched through the rubble because of the "very precarious" conditions, which involved moving "big hunks of sandstone and limestone around," said Mike Fox, chief of special operations for the Chicago Fire Department, which is assisting rescue efforts.

A spate of tornadoes swept through Utica -- a town about 90 miles southwest of Chicago -- and nearby Granville, Illinois, Tuesday evening.

After surveying the damage in Utica, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich designated LaSalle, Putnam, Kankakee, and Will counties disaster areas, making them available for relief from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

In a mid-afternoon press conference, Blagojevich offered prayers for those lost in the tornado, saying that "when it comes to devastation, the human cost is more than the damage on the ground."

IEMA Director Bill Burke said, "The application process for relief will begin immediately." Burke also expects the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help in the relief process.

The tornadoes that struck Tuesday evening "almost completely devastated" downtown Utica, about 90 miles southwest of Chicago, Fox said.

"Initially, we worked by hand," he said. "We used some specialized tools, listening devices and search cameras to look. But this building being so old, and with the mortar, it was a very tedious and slow-moving job."

Tavern patrons told rescuers they rushed to the basement when the tornado warning sounded Tuesday night. Rescuers were able to communicate with several of the people trapped in the basement, who were subsequently rescued, LaSalle Sheriff Tom Templeton said.

Rescue workers worked overnight, digging piece by piece through what was left of the building. The workers used a large crane to lift sections of collapsed floors, he said.

Utica City Hall was one of dozens of buildings and homes damaged in the LaSalle County town of 1,000 residents.

The twister first touched down 20 miles to the southwest in the Putnam County farming community of Granville, where an elementary school and at least three dozen homes received major damage, according to Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patty Thompson.

Another 30 houses in Granville suffered minor damage, Thompson said. No injuries were reported there.

A tornado also caused major damage to 10 homes in Will County, near Minooka, on the outskirts of Chicago, Thompson said.

In Indiana, one person was hurt when cars and trucks were overturned on Interstate 74 near Lebanon, according to the National Weather Service.

Otherwise, most of the tornado sightings in Indiana were brief touchdowns, with a few houses and barns damaged.

CNN's Lisa Leiter contributed to this report.


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