TOLEDO, Ohio – Several towns were under flood warnings Thursday after powerful storms raced across the upper Midwest, toppling trees and power lines and bringing so much rain that one community was split in two by flooding.
Five inches of rain fell in a five-hour span in the Toledo area Wednesday night, tornadoes were reported in Michigan, and 56 mph wind gusts and golf ball-size hail pelted northern Ohio, the National Weather Service said.
In Pennsylvania, two firefighters were injured fighting an apartment fire apparently started by lightning as the storm moved eastward.
The region wasn't in the clear yet, though: Another storm system was moving across the region Thursday evening, damaging buildings and bringing what forecasters said could be up to 3 inches of rain.
Flooding for the first storm had split the city of Norwalk after 7 inches of rain sent water overflowing a reservoir, about 60 miles southeast of Toledo. Mayor Sue Lesch and Huron County commissioners declared states of emergencies Thursday in what the mayor called the worst flooding since a dam broke in 1969.
Floodwater topped the playground equipment in parts of town, and about 20 homes were evacuated in the city of 16,000.
"Low-lying areas are all covered with water," said Tim Fitzgerald, business manager of Norwalk's St. Paul Roman Catholic Church, where a shelter was set up. "Our big concern is that the reservoir dam is really stretching to its limits."
In Toledo, firefighters resorted to rubber boats to rescue motorists from flooded underpasses, said Lucas County EMA Director William Halsey. Water as deep as 15 inches closed many major roads Wednesday, officials said.
"My sump pump has never run so much," Denise Hudgin, 41, of suburban Sylvania, said of the storm. "I've never seen so much water pour in. There were just incredible amounts of rain."
Residents in part of Martins Ferry, in eastern Ohio, were evacuated Thursday when lightning apparently hit a transformer and ignited a hillside. In Canton, numerous lightning strikes set off fire alarms.
Lightning strikes in western Pennsylvania were blamed for a tractor-trailer crash that temporarily closed a highway and two fires, one in Monongahela that damaged a carpet store and injured two firefighters. An apartment fire in Pittsburgh also was blamed on lightning; nobody was hurt.
About 4,000 customers lost power in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas during the storms, but most of that service was restored by noon.
At Magruder Hospital in Port Clinton, between Toledo and Norwalk, the staff had to use generators for a short time after the power went out, and pumps were brought in to remove several inches of water from the front entrance and lobby, supervisor Nancy Merk said.
"It was like the storm that didn't end," said Bob Case, a police in Port Clinton who estimated that the city along Lake Erie received up to 10 inches of rain between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.
The storm spawned at least two tornadoes in Michigan, one near Manitou Beach and another near Lambertville, just north of the Ohio line. No injuries or major damage were reported, officials said, but about 40,000 people lost power.