Eight people have died as tornadoes and heavy storms ripped across several American states, destroying hundreds of homes and flattening large parts of one town.

About 80 tornado reports were received during Sunday and Monday, along with 358 reports of damaging winds and 40 reports of large hail, according to Rich Thompson, of the Storm Prediction Centre. 

Six people died in Illinois, while one was killed in Michigan. Tornadoes were also reported in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

The unusual late-season storms moved at 60km an hour, with wind speeds of up to 200km an hour, according to emergency services.

The town of Washington, 230km southwest of Chicago, was hit hard. Hundreds of homes were destroyed, one person was killed and 31 were being treated for injuries.

"The devastation is just unbelievable," said the town’s mayor, Gary Manier. "I can't imagine people walked away from these places."

Two people, an 80-year-old man and his 78-year-old sister, were killed in Washington County while three others died in Massac County on the border with Kentucky.

Sara Sparkman, a spokeswoman the Illinois health department, said: "We have reports of homes being flattened, roofs being torn off.” 

Traffic was halted briefly at Chicago's two major airports, and tens of thousands of people in several states lost power.

In Michigan, a 21-year-old was killed in Jackson County when a tree struck his car.

Source: Agencies