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MILLBURY, Ohio (AP) — A community whose high school was destroyed the day before graduation by a tornado that killed seven people, including the valedictorian's father, rescheduled the ceremony as residents sifted through houses in many cases reduced to rubble.
The tornado was Ohio's strongest in eight years, part of a line of storms that ripped through the Midwest over the weekend, destroying dozens of homes and an emergency services building in northwest Ohio.
Storms collapsed a movie-theater roof in Illinois and ripped siding off a building at a Michigan nuclear plant, forcing a shutdown. But the worst destruction was reserved for a strip up to 300 yards wide and 10 miles long southeast of Toledo left littered Sunday with wrecked vehicles, splintered wood and family possessions.
Crews were working Monday morning to put up power lines to restore service to an estimated 1,000 customers. But the most devastated neighborhoods were quiet compared with Sunday, when hundreds of volunteers cleaned up debris.
Jim Mazey, 35, spent about 16 hours Sunday searching for belongings from a friend's house that was destroyed. They found a baby blanket, birth certificates and a family cat that was still alive.
All that's left of the home is the foundation. Six people were in the living room and trying to get to the basement when the tornado came through. Five were injured, two of them seriously.
"I look at this and can't believe they lived. The Lord was looking out for them," Mazey said Monday, when he came back to search for more.
The tornado rated a 3 on a 0-5 scale for measuring tornadoes, with 5 being the most severe, according to preliminary information from the National Weather Service. Category 3 tornadoes have gusts of 136-165 mph.
It was Ohio's most powerful tornado since one with winds topping 200 mph that hit in 2002 about 75 miles northwest of Saturday's storm, said Kirk Lombardy, a meteorologist at the weather service office in Cleveland. The 2002 tornado was part of a storm system killed five people statewide.
counties had estimated winds of up to 165 mph and was by far the most severe of four confirmed tornadoes to strike northern Ohio over the weekend, Will Kubina, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Cleveland, said Monday.
At least 50 homes were destroyed and another 50 severely damaged, as well as six commercial buildings. The storm fell over an area of farm fields and light industry, narrowly missing the heavily populated suburbs on the southern edge of Toledo. Damage could top $100 million, Wood County emergency management director Brad Gilbert said at a news conference Monday.
"It's a war zone," Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer said.
Hummer said all residents were accounted for after house-to-house searches.
Doug Wensink, 17, who had planned to graduate on Sunday, said the valedictorian lived in a home on a street blocked by fallen tree limbs.
Neighbors dug through a pile of rubble where the house once stood. There was nothing left but the foundation, which was filled with water and debris. A pool table floated in the middle.
Friends cried as they picked the family's belongings out of the mud and the mangled trees. One girl emerged from the muddy water carrying a teddy bear and a small jewelry box.
Scott Conley said he helped rescue the mother and her three children, who had survived by hiding in the basement. He had arrived at his parents' house across the street about 20 minutes before the storm hit. He said his family laid in the stairwell because they didn't have time to get to the basement.
Conley said he saw the body of the children's father in the rubble after hours of searching. He said the man apparently ran upstairs to get a flashlight and couldn't make it back to safety.
"You try and tell them, you know, that you're gonna find their dad," Conley said, breaking down at the memory of the search. "But we just couldn't."
The tornado ripped the roof and back wall off Lake High School's gymnasium late Saturday, hours before the graduation ceremony was supposed to begin there. The ceremony was rescheduled for Tuesday at a Toledo community college.
The tornado turned a township police and emergency medical services building into a mishmash of 2-by-4 framing and pink insulation. At least six police vehicles — half the township's fleet — were destroyed, and one car was tossed into the spot where the building once stood.
Those killed included a person outside the police department and a motorist, Hummer said. He said a young child and two other victims were from Millbury, a bedroom community of roughly 1,200 about 10 miles southeast of Toledo. Hummer said two other people died at hospitals but he did not have details.
In southeastern Michigan, severe storms and high winds ripped siding off a building at the Fermi 2 nuclear plant, causing it to shut down automatically, said Dan Smith, the public information officer for Monroe County.
DTE Energy, which owns the plant on the shore of Lake Erie, is investigating the damage, and there's no estimate when the plant will operate again, spokesman Guy Cerullo said.
Eleven people with minor injuries were taken to hospitals from Dundee, Mich., where a tornado touched down with winds of about 130 mph.
Tornadoes also were reported in Illinois. More than a dozen people were injured in Dwight, where about 40 mobile homes and 10 other homes were destroyed, Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson said.
The roof of a movie theater collapsed in Elmwood, about 30 miles west of Peoria. State Trooper Dustin Pierce said 150 to 200 people who had been inside were evacuated to the basement and no one was hurt.
The storms left a trail of damaged homes in northern Indiana and three tornadoes touched down, but no one was injured. In eastern Iowa, buildings were damaged and one person was hurt when a tornado touched down in Maquoketa.
A cold front colliding with warm unstable air produced the storms, said meteorologist Marty Mullen of the National Weather Service, a front that weakened as it headed east, though it did knock down trees and power lines across New York and produce high winds in Pennsylvania. An Ohio man died after his camper overturned on him during a strong storm in northwestern Pennsylvania, state police said.