CHICAGO (AP) — A massive line of storms packing hail, lightning and tree-toppling winds began rolling through the Midwest Wednesday evening and could affect more than one in five Americans from Iowa to Maryland before subsiding.
In the small town of Belmond, Iowa, about 90 miles north of Des Moines, Duwayne Abel, owner of Cattleman's Steaks & Provisions restaurant, said a tornado swooped through his business' parking lot and demolished part of the building. No one was in the restaurant at the time.
"I was, oh, eight miles west of town and I looked toward town and I could see a funnel cloud, having no idea it was exactly where our restaurant was," Abel said. His wife and an employee were able to get out of the restaurant and sought shelter in a basement.
Other small tornadoes were also reported in other parts of Iowa and in Illinois. Authorities in Iowa said at least two businesses and a home were "completely damaged" by severe weather, and tens of thousands of people from Iowa to Indiana had lost power.
"We're just happy that we don't have reports of injuries or fatalities," said Stephanie Bond with Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "We just hope the extent of the damage is minimal."
In addition to tornadoes, lightning and large hail, meteorologists were warning about the possibility of a weather event called a derecho (deh-RAY'-choh), which is a storm of strong straight-line winds spanning at least 240 miles. The storms are also likely to cause power outages that will be followed by oppressive heat, said Russell Schneider, director of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla. Flash flooding was also a concern in some areas.
The center was using its highest alert level for parts of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
In Chicago, Wednesday night's White Sox game against the Toronto Blue Jays was postponed and a symphony concert at the city's downtown Millennium Park was canceled. The Metra commuter rail service halted all inbound and outbound trains, and Northwestern University canceled classes and finals at its campuses in Chicago and suburban Evanston. Airlines canceled more than 120 flights at O'Hare International Airport.
The warnings prompted the Northern Indiana Public Service Co. to increase staff at its customer call center and scheduling extra work crews to handle any power outages.