FINDLAY, Ohio - More than 1,000 people were flooded out of their homes Thursday after the heavy rain that swamped communities across the Midwest sent Ohio's rivers spilling over their banks, the governor said. The storm's death toll also rose when three people were electrocuted by lightning at a Wisconsin bus stop.
'This is a major, major disaster,' Gov. Ted Strickland told CBS's 'The Early Show' Thursday. 'We'll do everything we can to help people get back on their feet, but this is going to take some time.'
In one Ohio county alone, more than 700 homes were severely damaged or destroyed by flooding, Strickland said. Midwest-wide, the count is in the thousands.
Findlay's firefighters and a volunteer armada navigated boats and canoes through streets waist-deep in water in their northwest Ohio town Wednesday, plucking neighbors and their pets from porches. Every downtown street and many neighborhoods were under water as the Blanchard River topped 7 feet above flood stage, its highest level since a 1913 flood.
With the flooding and more storms moving through, the death toll across the Upper Midwest and from the remnants of Tropical Storm Erin that swept Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri over the past week also rose to at least 26.
A woman and her child waiting at a bus stop were electrocuted when lightning hit a utility pole, causing a live wire to fall into a flooded intersection in Madison, Wis., Wednesday. A bus passenger who tried to save them was electrocuted as well, and another child and the bus driver were injured, police said.
'A lot of officers were affected because they couldn't jump in there and help because the wires were still live,' police spokesman Mike Hanson said. 'There are some heavy hearts.'
In Mansfield, Ohio, flood water tipped over a gas can in an apartment garage, fueling a fire when the vapors reached the pilot light on a water heater, fire officials said. David Pollock, 74, was found dead in a room above the garage, said assistant fire chief John Harsch.
To add to the misery of the survivors, much of the state was under a heat advisory Thursday, with temperatures expected to hit the upper 90s.
The sheriff of Hancock County, where Findlay is located, said the water was receding Thursday and hundreds of residents, some of them those who were rescued on Wednesday, had returned home to find the damage left by the flood waters.
'Some homes had a foot or 16 inches of water,' Sheriff Michael Heldman said. 'They're going to lose some things.'
Findlay Mayor Tony Iriti said the earliest his 40,000 residents would likely be allowed back to even look at the damage would be Thursday afternoon.
Officials are also aware that the Midwest's storms aren't finished yet.
A powerful thunderstorm hit Chicago with 50 mph wind late Wednesday, and another storm system was moving over Iowa and southern Minnesota on Thursday.
Thousands of homes across the upper Midwest have already been damaged by the week of heavy rain and flooding.