Central US flooding claims more lives

CHICAGO – A fresh round of thunderstorms battered parts of the central United States for a fifth day on Thursday as the region battled deadly floods that drove hundreds from their homes.

A wave of storms hit the Chicago area just before the evening rush hour, stranding children in schools, toppling dozens of trees, snarling rush hour train commutes and knocking flower boxes and barbecue grills off downtown high-rise balconies, according to various media reports.

O’Hare International Airport was closed for a time after its control tower was evacuated for 13 minutes when tornado warnings were issued for the area. The local commuter rail agency said 4,000 home-bound travelers were stranded for a time after winds downed a power line on tracks in one busy corridor.

No deaths were reported, but damage was widespread.

About 40 people were injured in a roof collapse in an industrial area in the town of West Chicago, but none of the injuries was life-threatening, media reports said.

From Ohio to Nebraska, as many as 13 people have died directly or indirectly from the latest series of storms and resulting high water. Two adults and a child were electrocuted in Wisconsin when lightning struck a utility poll at a bus stop in Madison on Wednesday.

Earlier, heavy rainfall in Texas and Oklahoma related to a tropical storm killed more than two dozen people.

The area around Findlay, in northwest Ohio, was among the hardest hit, though the Blanchard River there was beginning to recede after cresting at near-record levels, more than 7 feet above flood level.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for counties in the area because thunderstorms continued to move through the area.

Nine Ohio counties have declared states of emergency.

The flooding has worsened in Ottawa, west of Findlay, Ohio Emergency Management Agency spokesman Tom Hunter said earlier. “The flood levels have risen another foot overnight, and much of Findlay is still underwater at this hour since the waters are not receding very quickly,” he said.

An elderly man in northern Ohio died of smoke inhalation after flood waters tipped over a gasoline can, starting a fire, he said. And a 92-year-old man died after being trapped by flood water on Thursday in his car on a Ohio county road, the Findlay Courier newspaper reported on its Web site.

“Unfortunately, the weather forecast is still calling for chance of rain through much of the rest of the week, but we are cautiously optimistic that the worst may be behind us in terms of the heaviest rainfall,” Hunter said.

Flood warnings were also posted in parts of Iowa, Illinois and Indiana following overnight storms that dumped from 1 to 5 inches of rain on saturated areas. Forecasters warned of possible major flooding along the Des Moines River in the Fort Dodge area in northwest Iowa.

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