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Storms kill 7 in Midwest

Photo by Paul Sancya

Photo by Paul Sancya

MILLBURY, Ohio -- A mother and her young son and the father of the valedictorian from a high school now in ruins were among seven people killed in a weekend tornado that was Ohio's most powerful in eight years, authorities and relatives said Monday.

The tornado was part of a line of storms that tore through the Midwest over the weekend, destroying dozens of homes and ripping off a movie-theater roof in Illinois and siding at a Michigan nuclear plant, forcing a shutdown.

But the worst destruction was in northwest Ohio, where the tornado flattened an emergency services building and left a strip up to 300 yards wide and 10 miles long littered 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.

Six people were in the home's 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 victims included Mary Walters, 36, and her 4-year-old son, Hayden, who were sleeping when the tornado struck late Saturday, said Mary's sister, Amy Sigler. Only the foundation remains where their home once stood.

Walters' death came a day after she took part in a youth sleepover at a church, said her sister, Sigler. More than anything, Walters was a Christian and a mother, Sigler said Monday.

''Her life revolved around her relationship with Jesus,'' she said.

Ted Kranz, 46, whose daughter was to address her high school class as valedictorian, also died, the Wood County coroner's office said Monday.

Bailey Bowman, 21, of Walbridge and Kathleen Hammitt, 56, of Wauseon also died, the coroner's office said. The circumstances of their deaths were not immediately available. The identities of the two others who died have yet to be released.

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.

At least 50 homes were destroyed over the weekend 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 Monday.