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Midwest states start cleanup after storms that killed five

Saturday, May 9, 2009 | 4:42 p.m. CDT

ST. LOUIS — Residents of the Midwest cleared away wreckage Saturday following a wave of powerful storms that splintered homes, knocked out power to thousands and killed five people.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed Friday in Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri and 150,000 Missouri utility customers lost power. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency.

"My primary concern is the safety of Missourians and this executive order makes state agency resources available to help communities respond to the storms," Nixon said.

In southern Illinois, more than 63,000 customers of the utility AmerenUE still had no electricity Saturday, the company said. Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Saturday declared three southern counties disaster areas.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear declared an emergency in central and southeastern sections of his state Saturday.

Trees were down and windows were broken on Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus, but the school said weekend commencement ceremonies would go on scheduled. Friday's graduation ceremonies were canceled.

On Saturday, a line of thunderstorms stretched from Arkansas and northern Mississippi across Tennessee and Kentucky.

Some homes were evacuated early Saturday in southern West Virginia because of flooding caused by more than 2 inches of rain, said state Homeland Security Operations Director Paul Howard. High water also closed several main roads. No injuries were reported. Appalachian Power reported nearly 10,000 customers without service.

Two people were killed near Poplar Bluff when wind knocked a tree onto their sport utility vehicle. In Dallas County, a man in his 70s had a fatal heart attack after he and his wife were sucked from their home by a tornado and thrown into a field 75 to 100 feet away, said county emergency management director Larry Highfill. The wife was hospitalized in fair condition.

A 54-year-old woman was killed in southeast Kansas in a mobile home that was blown off its foundation. And in central Kentucky, officials blamed a possible tornado for the death of a woman whose body was found in a pond.

Wind in southeast Kansas reached 120 mph, destroying the New Albany United Methodist Church, the town's post office and at least one home, authorities said. Major damage also was reported to a high school in Cherokee, Kan.

The National Weather Service said it received multiple reports of tornadoes from one end of Missouri to the other, mostly south of Interstate 44.

The weather service confirmed that at least two tornadoes touched down Friday morning in southwest Missouri's Greene County. The county's Office of Emergency Management counted three homes and one business destroyed with 298 homes, 29 businesses and 13 schools damaged.

In southern Illinois, the storm system peeled siding and roofs off homes and other buildings, blowing out car windows and tearing up trailer parks. Wind gusted to 100 mph in the Carbondale area and sustained wind was measured up to 90 mph.

Carbondale Township fire Capt. Mark Black said he wasn't sure if a tornado touched down in his area but the "winds were just amazing. They were howling and the siding on the trailers was flying through the air and there was a pretty hard rain."

In sparsely populated Dallas County, seven people were hurt as wind — possibly a tornado — destroyed 35 homes and damaged numerous others, state emergency management officials said.

Dozens of houses and other buildings were destroyed or damaged in central Kentucky's Madison County, where the woman's body was found in a pond.

"It sounded like an airplane taking off, but I knew it wasn't," said Richmond, Ky., resident Lonnie Hall, whose four-year-old home was toppled. "The wind start picking up, and I yelled to everyone 'Let's go to the basement.' In 10 or 15 seconds, it was over with."


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