COLUMBIA — As tornadoes swept across the Midwest on Sunday, MU junior Kristen Shookman tried frantically to call her parents and sister in Washington, Ill.
Nobody was answering her calls.
Many relief organizations are providing meals, shelter and health care for people affected by the storms. Funds will also be used to repair the destruction and to prepare for possible future storms.
The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army are accepting donations. To donate by phone, text "redcross" to 90999 to give $10 to the American Red Cross or text STORM to 80888 to give $10 to The Salvation Army.
Those in affected areas can also contribute by donating blood.
Hours later, Shookman finally reached a family friend and learned that the family's house had been hit. Her family escaped, but the home was destroyed. She immediately drove home to help her family wade through the debris and pack up their belongings.
"It's indescribable," Shookman said. "I couldn't tell where the streets were anymore. All the houses were leveled."
Thousands of families are grappling with loss after thunderstorms and tornadoes pummeled 12 states throughout the Midwest over the weekend, with Illinois hit the hardest. At least eight people have died, hundreds have been injured and tens of thousands were without power, according to The Associated Press.
Other MU students were caught traveling during the storms.
MU junior Kyle Bauche saw one of the tornadoes on Sunday while he and a friend traveled from Indianapolis to Columbia on Interstate 70.
Several miles east of Vandalia, Ill., Bauche looked out the passenger window and saw a funnel cloud touch down. Debris whipped across the highway, and tractor trailers wobbled precariously.
"My friend who was driving had a really hard time keeping the car straight on the road," Bauche said. "It was unbelievable."
Some students couldn't reach their families because of power outages caused by the storms. In Missouri alone, Ameren reported that more than 40,000 customers were without power on Sunday.
MU junior Matthew Cassidy's hometown of Peoria, Ill., was also in the path of a tornado.
"I got woken up on Sunday by my friend running into my room and asking if my family was OK," Cassidy said. "I had no idea what was happening."
Cassidy's family survived the storm and his home remained unscathed. He said several of his friends and extended family experienced severe property damage, however.
On Monday afternoon, Shookman was preparing to leave Washington, Ill., after spending the day helping her family pack up its belongings. Her two brothers also took a train from Chicago to help out.
She described the experience as overwhelming.
"I just wanted to get back to Columbia," Shookman said. "I just couldn't handle it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Supervising editor is Richard Webner.