BROOKVILLE, Ohio (AP) – A swarm of tornadoes so tightly packed that one may have crossed the path carved by another tore across Indiana and Ohio overnight, smashing homes, blowing out windows and ending the school year early for some students because of damage to buildings. One person was killed and about 90 were injured.
The storms were among 53 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down Monday across eight states stretching eastward from Idaho and Colorado. The past couple of weeks have seen unusually high tornado activity in the U.S.
The winds peeled away roofs – leaving homes looking like giant dollhouses – knocked houses off their foundations, toppled trees, brought down power lines and churned up so much debris that it could be seen on radar. Highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an Ohio interstate.
Some of the heaviest damage was reported just outside Dayton, Ohio.
“I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands,” said Francis Dutmers, who with his wife headed for the basement of their home in Vandalia, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Dayton, when the storm hit with a “very loud roar” Monday night. The winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with debris and took down most of his trees.
In Celina, Ohio, 81-year-old Melvin Dale Hannah was killed when a parked car was blown into his house, authorities said.
“There’s areas that truly look like a war zone,” Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said Tuesday.
Storm reports posted online by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center showed that 14 suspected tornadoes touched down in Indiana, 11 in Colorado and nine in Ohio. Six were reported in Iowa, five in Nebraska, four in Illinois and three in Minnesota, with one in Idaho.
Monday marked the record-tying 11th straight day with at least eight tornadoes in the U.S., said Patrick Marsh, the Storm Prediction Center’s warning coordination meteorologist. The last such stretch was in 1980.
“We’re getting big counts on a lot of these days, and that is certainly unusual,” Marsh said.
Thunderstorms that spun off the Colorado twisters dropped hail as large as tennis balls, with pea-size hail reported in the Denver area. Nebraska was hit with hail more than 2 inches in diameter, and dozens of drivers pulled off Interstate 80 with broken windshields.
Forecasters warned of the possibility of powerful thunderstorms during the Tuesday afternoon rush hour in the Kansas City area, as well as more bad weather in Ohio.
A tornado with winds up to 140 mph (225 kph) struck near Trotwood, Ohio, eight miles (12 kilometers) from Dayton, and Mayor Mary McDonald reported “catastrophic damage” in the community of 24,500. Several apartment buildings were damaged or destroyed, including one complex where the entire roof was torn away, and at least three dozen people were treated at emergency rooms for cuts, bumps and bruises.
“If I didn’t move quick enough, what could have happened?” said Erica Bohannon of Trotwood, who hid in a closet with her son and their dog. She emerged to find itself looking at the sky. The roof had blown away.
Five busloads of displaced residents were taken to a church that served as a shelter, Trotwood’s mayor said.
Just before midnight, about 40 minutes after that tornado cut through, the weather service tweeted that another one was crossing its path, kicking up enough debris to be visible on radar.
In Brookville, west of Dayton, the storm peeled roofs off schools, destroyed a barn and heavily damaged houses.
Only a few minor injuries were reported in Dayton. Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne called that “pretty miraculous,” attributing it to people heeding early warnings. Sirens went off ahead of the storm.
A boil-water advisory was issued after the storms knocked out power to the city’s pumping stations, and Dayton Power & Light said 64,000 customers were left without electricity. A high school gym in Dayton was designated an emergency shelter until authorities realized it was unusable.
Vandalia’s school system tweeted that it is ending the year two days early because of building damage. In Brookville, where the storm tore off the school’s roof, classes were canceled.
In Indiana, a twister touched down Monday evening in Pendleton, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Indianapolis. At least 75 homes were damaged there and in nearby Huntsville, said Madison County Emergency Management spokesman Todd Harmeson. No serious injuries were reported.
Pendleton residents were urged to stay in their homes Tuesday morning because of downed trees, power lines and utility poles.
“People are getting antsy. I know they want to get outdoors, and I know they want to see what’s going on in the neighborhood,” Harmeson said. But he added: “We still have hazards out there.”
Outbreaks of 50 or more tornadoes have happened 63 times in U.S. history, with three instances on record of more than 100 twisters, Marsh said. That includes a deadly April 27, 2011, “super outbreak” of 173 tornadoes. But Monday’s outbreak was unusual because it happened over a particularly wide geographic area and came amid an especially active stretch of tornadoes, he said.
Associated Press writers Dan Sewell and Amanda Seitz in Cincinnati; David Runk in Detroit; Kantele Franko and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; Rick Callahan in Indianapolis; John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas; and Marjory Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, contributed.