Every few minutes, McDonald's husband would bend over and snatch something from the ground, bringing over to her a recovered family photo or photo slide.
"We're in disbelief," said McDonald, standing on a concrete slab. "There are no words to describe this."
The storm clipped the corner of a residential neighborhood and demolished a strip mall before jumping a retention pond and heading straight for Brady, in the southeast corner of town. A total of 10 duplexes stood there before the twister tore a nearly 8-mile path through Harrisburg and surrounding areas.
After the storm, five badly damaged duplexes remained. The others had been reduced to a jumble of splintered plywood, crumpled appliances and twisted strips of pink insulation. Those left standing had their roofs caved in or gaping holes in the walls.
The personal effects of everyday life — family photos, bank statements, holiday cards — were strewn about the neighborhood, soaking in puddles or protruding from collapsed roofs.
"I can't even hardly look at it," Sheri Davis said Thursday, biting her lip and slowly shaking her head as she looked at a towering pile of rubble that was the duplex where her injured daughter-in-law had lived.
Danny Morse, who owns the duplexes with his wife and began building the development in 2004, helped with the cleanup Thursday. The three duplexes that housed the five people who died had been built last summer, Morse said.
"It's just devastating," he added. "One night you go to bed and everything's fine, and the next morning you see this. ... It's all gone."
Nearby was the concrete slab that used to anchor the home of Jaylynn Ferrell, 22, who lived next door to Osman. Ferrell, a registered nurse who worked nights in the intensive care unit at Harrisburg Medical Center, was killed in the tornado.
She grew up in Herod, about 15 miles southeast of Harrisburg, and was working toward a bachelor's degree in nursing, relatives said. "A go-getter" who attended First Baptist Church in Harrisburg, Ferrell "always wanted more," said her paternal grandmother, Ann Ferrell.
"She would always go the extra mile to better herself," Ann Ferrell said.
Jaylynn Ferrell's maternal grandmother, Anita Peters, said family and friends are "numb. We know she's gone, but we're all firm Christians, and we know she's in heaven."
After relocating to Brady Street, Hull had "said God just worked everything out for her," recalled her sister, Kay Bridewell. "The duplex was beautiful, and Lynda loved her neighbors."
Hull became good friends with Randy and Donna Mae Rann, ages 66 and 61, who lived next door and so often shared meals with Hull that she joked they had adopted her, Bowman said.
Hull passed that generosity to others in the neighborhood, Bridewell said, taking food to those on the block who were ill or otherwise homebound.
She and the Ranns died in the tornado.
On Thursday, Donna Rann's brother Neal Patterson stood near the concrete slab that once supported the Ranns' home. He said the magnitude of the destruction was unfathomable.
"It's like you keep replaying a movie in your mind," he said Thursday as he walked away from the ruins of Brady Street, "and it's about somebody else's life, not your life, and you'll be able to switch it off and everything will be back to normal."
Patterson said his sister was planning to retire from her job with the U.S. Forestry Service in less than two weeks.
The identity of the sixth person killed, who was also from Harrisburg, was unknown as of late Thursday.
The tornado started about seven miles southwest of Harrisburg, a town of about 9,000, and struck there at 4:56 a.m. Wednesday, the National Weather Service reported Thursday. Winds peaked at 180 mph and cut a path as wide as three football fields. More than 200 homes and about 25 businesses were destroyed or badly damaged, the weather service stated, before the tornado dissipated about two miles east of Harrisburg.
Harrisburg, about 320 miles south of Chicago in a region known as a coal mining center and as the gateway to the 270,000-acre Shawnee National Forest, coped with another natural disaster in 2008. Flooding throughout much of the town caused $20 million in damage. Several people cleaning up Brady Street said Wednesday's tornado dwarfed that damage.
"I don't know how you can compare the two," said Sheri Davis, whose daughter-in-law was injured in the twister, while looking at what remained of a destroyed duplex. "I don't know what to make of this."
Support continued flowing to the area. The Salvation Army was supplying food. The American Red Cross was providing shelter. U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., toured the region, and on Thursday afternoon, Gov. Pat Quinn asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help with damage assessments in the region.