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Tornadoes compound Midwest flood misery

/ Source: and NBC News

The mammoth storm system blamed for killing at least 26 people in the Midwest was bringing a new wave of misery as fierce winds and tornadoes hampered efforts to recover from record floods and shut down air traffic at two of the nation’s busiest airports.

At least three tornadoes were reported Thursday afternoon in the Chicago area, according to NBC affiliate WMAQ. Harsh winds blew the roof off a warehouse in suburban West Chicago, collapsing the structure and injuring at least 40 people, none of them seriously.

Jill Dillingham, who lives on the North Side of Chicago, described the storm as a “hellacious, black wall.”

The conditions led authorities to shut down all arrivals and departures at O’Hare and Midway airports. The Chicago Department of Aviation said operations were suspended for only a brief time, but they warned travelers to expect serious delays and numerous cancellations at the airports, significant hubs where many travelers on their way to Labor Day weekend holidays would be expected to change planes.

Will County and southern Cook remained under tornado warnings late Thursday afternoon.

More Iowa flooding forecastThe tornadoes were spinoffs of storm systems that clobbered the Midwest this week, flooding thousands of residents out of their homes. 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 rose to at least 26.

Another storm system was moving over Iowa and southern Minnesota, and much of Ohio was under a heat advisory, with temperatures in the upper 90s. Cincinnati schools closed because of the heat for the first time in at least 10 years.

Residents of southern Iowa towns were bracing for more flooding as up to 4 inches of new rain was expected to send the Blanchard River even higher, NBC WeatherPlus meteorologist Jackie Meretzky reported.

Work crews raced to pack sagging levees with sandbags and rocks along the river, a tributary of the Mississippi River that rose 18 feet in two days this week, cresting nearly 7 inches above its record level, recorded in 1913.

Chertoff, Paulison review Ohio damageNBC WeatherPlus meteorologist Jeff Ranieri reported from Findlay, Ohio, the worst-hit town this week, that streets were just starting to dry out when the new forecast was announced.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and David Paulison, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, toured Findlay to assess the damage from the worst flooding in at least a century.

“Hang in there. At least you’re safe,” Chertoff told a man who was waiting in line to apply for state aid.

Later, Chertoff and Paulison visited flood-stricken areas of southeastern Iowa, where Chertoff announced that President Bush had signed disaster declarations for three counties.

The Des Moines River, meanwhile, was not expected to reach its highest point for another 24 to 48 hours, Ranieri said, cresting about 12 feet above flood stage.

In the town of Lehigh, Dena Johnson watched the water inch closer and closer to her back door.

“I’m nervous. I’m nervous,” she told NBC News’ Lee Cowan. “I’ve had butterflies all day.”

But it is upriver in Fort Dodge where forecasters fear the worst damage may be.

'We just need it to stop raining'Volunteers from a nearby community college gave up football practice to fill sandbags, hoping to shore up the levee near the town’s hydroelectric damn.

“We just need it to stop raining,” City Manager David Fierke said. “If it doesn’t rain anymore, we’ll be fine, and we really don’t need this extra work, but that’s not what the weather service is telling us.”

Officials in town along the Des Moines River alerted residents that they may have to evacuate.

“The river is out of its banks, and there’s no holding it back now,” said Tom Heinold of the Army Corps of Engineers. “It’s going to do what it wants.”

Water contamination fearedNBC affiliate KWWL of Waterloo reported that so much raw sewage had seeped into water supplies that Black Hawk County officials officials issued warnings not to drink or cook with it.

“Kids like to play in it, and it can be fun, but it can be risky, especially if they have cuts or abrasions, broken skin,” said county Health Director Tom O’Rourke. “We advise that persons should treat all flood water as if it is chemically contaminated and capable of causing infectious diseases.”

Less rain was expected farther north, allowing flood victims to begin trying to piece their lives back together.

Roger Colbenson of Rushford, Minn., told NBC affiliate KIMT of Sioux City, Iowa, that his home, along with his $200,000 collection of baseball cards and comic books, was destroyed.

“We couldn’t believe what we were seeing,” Colbenson said. “We did take pictures when we went in, and believe it or not, I broke down about six times. It’s everything we worked for, gone.”

Along with dealing with the mess in the homes, authorities reported outbreaks of looting in empty houses. Fillmore County imposed a curfew, ordering all residents out of Rushford by 9 p.m.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday that he and legislative leaders had agreed to call a special session sometime next month to hammer out flood relief for southeastern parts of the state.