CHICAGO – Residents of the Midwest faced blackouts affecting more than 2 million homes and businesses and flooded homes Monday after a weekend of devastating weather caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.
The violent weather in the Midwest, the latest in a brutal summer that has slammed parts of the region with severe flooding, brought Ike's total death toll to at least 34 in nine states from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley.
As Ike faded and headed off toward the northeast, combining with a weather system that arrived from the west, it dumped as much as 6 to 8 inches of rain on parts of Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. It spawned a tornado in Arkansas that damaged several buildings, and delivered hurricane-force wind to Ohio, temporarily shutting down Cincinnati's main airport during the weekend. Missouri had widespread flooding, and high water on the Mississippi River was expected to close a riverfront street later this week in front of St. Louis' famed Gateway Arch.
"We've got flash flooding all over the place," National Weather Service hydrologist Mark Fuchs said of Missouri.
"We've never had flooding like this," said Tom DeGiulio, town manager in Munster, Ind. About 40 Indiana National Guard troops were activated Sunday to assist with the evacuation of up to 5,000 residents there.
About 2 million homes and businesses across Ohio had no electricity Monday, including some in Columbus and Cincinnati, Gov. Ted Strickland said as he declared a state of emergency, which allows the Ohio Department of Transportation to help communities remove debris from roads. He said it would take days to restore power in all areas of the state.
About 450 Ohio school districts canceled classes Monday, and the blackouts shut down one-third of the state's traffic signals, officials said.
The Ohio outage was the biggest in Duke Power history, said Duke spokeswoman Kathy Meinke. "We've never seen anything like this in early fall," American Electric Power spokesman Jeff Rennie said of Ohio's problems.
Evacuees who spent the night in a shelter set up at a school in Munster said Monday that the water rose quickly.
"The water was nothing but a trickle in the middle of the street and by the time we decided what to do it was too late," said George Polvich, one of the Munster residents rescued by boat. "There was, like, three feet of water."
The record rainfall also threatened farmers' harvests.
Indiana utilities reported more than 100,000 customers without power Monday, and in New York more than 130,000 customers had no electrical service. The utility Entergy Arkansas said about 75,000 customers remained without power in its state Monday.
A busy stretch of Interstate 80/94 just east of the Indiana-Illinois state line was closed by flooding Monday and Indiana highway officials had no estimate when it could be reopened.
Major flooding is predicted this week for towns in Missouri, including Arnold, where the Meramec River is expected to reach a major flood stage for the third time this year. Fortunately, Arnold still had sandbags in place that were piled up during the first flood in March.
The Missouri River is likely to reach more than 11 feet above flood stage in Missouri's St. Charles County, threatening seven private levees, officials said.
Illinois officials said they would ask Gov. Rod Blagojevich to issue a disaster declaration for the city of Chicago and surrounding Cook County, where dozens of people were rescued from rising water by boat.
Elsewhere across Illinois, volunteers sandbagged the banks of the overflowing DuPage and Des Plaines Rivers. In Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood, truckloads of sand were delivered to help hold back the rising North Branch of the Chicago River.
Also in Illinois, the weekend's record rainfall and flooding were threatening corn and soybean yields. University of Illinois agricultural economist Stu Ellis said the rain could provide the right environment for fungus to spread in soybean fields and further weaken corn crops, already fragile from the summer's drought.
Seven people died in the flooding and high wind in Indiana, the state's Department of Homeland Security said Monday. Among them were a teacher and his father who were sucked into a culvert and drowned Sunday while trying to rescue a 10-year-old boy from a flooded ditch, state officials said.
Elsewhere in the Midwest, the weather was blamed for four deaths in Ohio, four in Missouri, two in Tennessee and one each in Arkansas and Kentucky.