More than 1,000 people were flooded out of their homes after heavy rain that swamped communities across the American Midwest sent Ohio’s rivers spilling over their banks, the governor said. The storm’s death toll also rose when three people were electrocuted by lightning at a bus stop.
“This is a major, major disaster,” Gov. Ted Strickland told CBS television’s “The Early Show” Thursday. “We’ll do everything we can to help people get back on their feet, but this is going to take some time.”
In one Ohio county alone, more than 700 homes were severely damaged or destroyed by flooding, Strickland said. Midwest-wide, the count is in the thousands.
Findlay’s firefighters and a volunteer armada navigated boats and canoes through streets waist-deep in water in their northwest Ohio town Wednesday, plucking neighbors and their pets from porches. Every downtown street and many neighborhoods were under water as the Blanchard River topped 7 feet (2.1 meters) above flood stage, its highest level since a 1913 flood.
With the flooding and more storms moving through, the death toll across the Upper Midwest and from the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin that swept Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri over the past week also rose to at least 26.
A woman and her child waiting at a bus stop were electrocuted when lightning hit a utility pole at a flooded intersection in Madison, Wisconsin, on Wednesday, and a passenger who tried to save them was electrocuted as well, police said.
In Mansfield, Ohio, flood water tipped over a gas can in an apartment garage, fueling a fire when the vapors reached the pilot light on a water heater, fire officials said. David Pollock, 74, was found dead in a room above the garage, said assistant fire chief John Harsch.
To add to the misery of the survivors, much of the state was under a heat advisory Thursday, with temperatures expected to hit the upper 90s (30s Celsius).
The rain had largely subsided by Wednesday afternoon. Small streams and creeks began to recede, but Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti said the earliest his 40,000 residents would likely be allowed back to even look at the damage would be Thursday afternoon.
He’s also aware that the Midwest’s storms are not finished yet.
A powerful thunderstorm hit Chicago with 50 mph (80 kph) wind late Wednesday, and another storm system was moving over Iowa and southern Minnesota on Thursday.
Associated Press Writers Doug Whiteman and Emily Zeugner in Columbus, and Todd Richmond in Rushford, Minn., contributed to this report.
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