By DAN STRUMPF
Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO (AP) - Ferocious thunderstorms, heat and humidity added to the Midwest's flooding misery Friday as thousands of people returned to damaged homes, many without electricity to run fans or pumps.
A sudden thunderstorm with 70 mph wind slammed into the Chicago area Thursday evening, tearing down huge trees and damaging buildings. In the suburbs, part of an industrial facility's roof collapsed, injuring 40 people, and a tornado was reported as the storm moved into Michigan.
"Out of nowhere, the sky just went black," said Kimber Hall, 20, was riding her bike along Lake Michigan when the storm hit. "Sheets of rain. Lightning hit a tree about 25 feet away from me.
A branch hit me in the face."
Early Friday, another band of thunderstorms was dumping more rain along a line from Missouri and Iowa to Wisconsin.
Most of southern Iowa was under a flash flood watch through Friday evening as as much as 8 inches of rain fell, the National Weather Service said. In Ottumwa, residents were asked to conserve water because the rain had backed up sewers and flooded a pump room
at the water plant. The tap water wasn't contaminated yet, officials said early Friday, but the city's 25,000 residents were advised to boil it.
Flooding caused problems for drivers in northern Indiana, where officials shut down a 3-mile stretch of eastbound Interstate 80/94 Friday morning and some of the westbound lanes. Several cities were
redirecting traffic because of flooded streets.
In Illinois, forecasters warned residents in the northern part of the state to prepare for flooding as another 2 inches of rain was expected Friday afternoon and evening.
"That's what we're worried about right now," said weather service meteorologist Nathan Marsili. "It could turn out to be a pretty bad flooding situation for the area."
Nearly a week of powerful storms, heavy rain and devastating flooding across the upper Midwest has damaged hundreds of homes and has been blamed for at least 16 deaths.
The powerful storms that hit Illinois blew over a tree in rural Knox County, killing one man on Thursday. Flooding in Ohio was blamed for the death of another Thursday, a 92-year-old man who drowned trying to get to safety after his car became trapped in floodwater near Findlay.
About 310,000 homes and businesses in northern Illinois, 115,000 in Michigan and 30,000 in northern Indiana were without power afterward. ComEd spokesman Tom Stevens said it could take days to restore power for some customers north of Chicago.
While other storms lashed Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana on Thursday, hard-hit Ohio finally got a break, at least from the rain. Instead, the state got temperatures in the upper 90s, making that the cleanup from widespread flooding even more of a struggle.
In Findlay, which saw its worst flooding in nearly a century, people tried to pump water from their basements and tally their losses.
"Most of it's ruined," Joe Lamb said as he sorted through a bin of soaked NASCAR memorabilia, hosing off the mini Dale Earnhardt collector cars and tossing the rest. "Our Christmas stuff, everything."
A day earlier, firefighters and volunteers in boats and canoes had navigated the waist-deep floodwater to rescue their neighbors. Some residents were still stuck in a shelter, where 200 people slept Wednesday night.
In Chicago, a few businesses found a bright side to the storm Thursday night.
"People would not leave," said bartender Nick McCann. "We had $2 margaritas, and people were getting hammered."
About 500 flights at O'Hare International Airport were canceled Thursday evening and others delayed for more than 2 1/2 hours, Chicago Aviation Commissioner Nuria Fernandez said.
Strong wind also knocked down a hangar under construction at the Gary/Chicago International Airport leaving just "a pile of metal," Gary Jet Center president Will Davis said.
In southwestern Wisconsin, the National Guard pumped water to relieve pressure on at least one dam, said Mike Goetzman, a spokesman for Wisconsin Emergency Management. The earthen dam had
been eroded earlier this week by water from the weekend thunderstorms.
Iowa officials were keeping a close eye on the Des Moines River, and In the river town of Fort Dodge, crews scrambled to shore up a levee.
At Fox Lake, in northern Illinois, residents were busy stacking sandbags to protect their houses from the rising Fox River, said Ami McEwan, assistant administrator for Lake County.
"Most of them are sandbagging and keeping it at bay," she said.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
Enter your number for a chance to win great prizes!
Message and data rates may apply