MILLBURY, Ohio — A tornado unleashed a "war zone" of destruction in northwest Ohio, destroying dozens of homes and an emergency services building as a line of storms killed at least seven people and briefly threatened the Northeast on Sunday.
Storms collapsed a movie-theater roof in Illinois and ripped siding off a building at a Michigan nuclear plant, forcing a shutdown. But most of the worst was reserved for a 100-yard-wide, 7-mile-long strip southeast of Toledo now littered with wrecked vehicles, splintered wood and family possessions.
The tornado ripped the roof and back wall off Lake High School's gymnasium at about 11 p.m. Saturday, several hours before the graduation ceremony was supposed to begin. The school board president said one of the victims was the father of the class valedictorian.
Two buses were tossed on their sides and another was thrown about 50 yards, landing on its top near the high school's football field. More than 10 hours later, its right turn signal was still blinking.
Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer flew over the damaged area and said 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.
"It's a war zone," Hummer said. "It's pretty disheartening."
Hummer said Sunday afternoon all buildings had been searched and everyone was accounted for. Rescuers were searching a wooded area and a field near the worst-hit portion of town as a precaution.
The tornado turned a township police and emergency medical services building into a mishmash of 2-by-4 framing and pink insulation. Hummer was talking to a police dispatcher by phone when the storm hit.
"She started saying, 'The building is shaking,' and then another dispatcher came on and said, 'The roof just blew off," he said.
The storm ripped off most of the building's back half and wrapped part of the metal roof around a tree. 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.
The storm knocked out emergency services for a short time, and all the emergency dispatchers and 911 operators had to be moved to a nearby town.
"When the people who are supposed to help you are victims of the storm, it does take you a minute to catch your breath," Hummer said.
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 nearby 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.
One of the victims was the father of Lake High School's valedictorian, said Tim Krugh, president of the school district's board. Krugh said the school has rescheduled graduation for Tuesday evening at a Toledo community college.
Neighbors said the house of the valedictorian's family was destroyed, and all that was left was a basement filled with water.
More than 30 people in the Toledo area were hospitalized. Two adults and two children were in critical condition, said Mercy hospital system spokeswoman Gloria Enk.
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. Investigators inspected the nuclear plant on the shore of Lake Erie on Sunday, and the plant was expected to go back into operation, Smith said.
About 14,000 people were without power but it wasn't clear whether that was directly related to the nuclear plant's shutdown or because of damage to power lines in the area, said Gregory Williams, director of emergency managment for Monroe County.
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, Ill., about 30 miles west of Peoria. State Trooper Dustin Pierce said 150 to 200 people had been inside, but they had been evacuated to the basement and no one was hurt.
The storms left a trail of damaged homes in northern Indiana and two tornadoes were reported, 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 that struck Saturday night, meteorologist Marty Mullen of the National Weather Service said, and that front was draped from New England south through the mid-Atlantic region later Sunday. The storm weakened as it headed east and a tornado watch for much of New England was canceled.
The day after the Toledo-area tornado hit, residents were searching fields looking for anything salvageable.
The storm destroyed Ronald Johns' house and barn and flung his cast-iron bath tub into a wheat field, but his wife managed to find a wristwatch, still working, amid the scattered bits of their rural home near Millbury.
On Saturday night, Johns looked out the window and couldn't even see the barn directly across the road. The chimney fell through the first floor as soon as the retired couple made it to the basement, pinning Johns with bricks until his wife, Jan, managed to free him.
Ronald Johns, 74, said they were lucky. "We didn't get down there five seconds too fast," he said.
Truck driver Carl Gooden, 54, said he, his wife and his adult son were sitting on the porch when they heard a roar and ran for the bathroom.
Wind tore off most of the home's roof and ripped open the north side of house, exposing a bedroom and a closet where sweat shirts and dresses were still on their hangers. In the front yard, a sliver of aluminum siding from a neighbor's barn was wrapped around a teetering telephone pole.
Gooden said his family lost two garages and five vehicles. The front yard was littered with decades of memories: a Loretta Lynn album, a porcelain lamp and a green golf bag were among the recognizable items.
"My heart sinks," Gooden said. "I worked a lifetime for all this."
But he wasn't about to go in to retrieve items such as his wife's jewelry or his NASCAR collectibles. His home was knocked 5 feet off its foundation and basement washer and dryer were all that was holding it up.
"It's not worth dying for," he said.
Associated Press Writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio, Sophia Tareen and Tammy Webber in Chicago, Charles Wilson in Indianapolis and Randi Berris in Detroit contributed to this report.