Severe weather has brought a string of tornados to parts of the Midwest and elsewhere in the U.S., causing significant destruction in Kansas, Ohio and Indiana where several counties were placed under emergency warnings Monday and Tuesday.
At least two people have died and hundreds injured.
Melvin Dale Hannah, an 81-year-old man from Celina, Ohio, died after a parked car blew into his home, Mayor Mayor Jeff Hazel told reporters Tuesday.
“There’s areas that truly look like a war zone,” he said, according to the Associated Press, adding that seven other people were injured in the city, located some 80 miles northwest of Dayton.
In Leavenworth, Kansas, a 68-year-old woman died Tuesday morning after a tree fell into her home, police say. The National Weather Service in Kansas City, which issued severe thunderstorm and flash flood warnings during the day, said it had also received numerous reports of debris falling from the sky.
According to the Weather Channel, several buildings and houses suffered significant damage in communities on the western edge of Kansas City, and heavy rain falling on already-saturated soil created flooding concerns.
More than 10,000 people have been left without power in and around Kansas City, electric services supplier Westar Energy said.
In Pennsylvania, several counties were placed under tornado warnings after a twister in Scranton was confirmed.
Reports on Tuesday night said the storm system is headed towards the Tri-state area, with tornado warnings in effect in parts of New York City and New Jersey. Another tornado was earlier spotted in the area around Scranton, Pennsylvania.
Andy Hatzos, a weather forecaster for the NWS in Wilmington, Ohio, tells TIME that the NWS is beginning to process the damage ratings of the tornadoes that passed through Northern Ohio. The organization has already confirmed that at least an EF3 tornado with winds up to 140 mph hit Beavercreek in Greene County, Ohio, about 80 miles from Celina.
Hatzos says there were up to 10 tornadoes in Ohio overnight, and the hardest hit areas were around Dayton, as well as a few counties north and northeast of the city. Ohio is accustomed to storms during tornado season, but Monday night’s tornado cluster was out of the ordinary because of its strength, he says.
“This is definitely the time of year we expect to see the most tornadoes,” he says. “In the Ohio Valley, May is typically our most active tornado month, but the numbers we had yesterday, probably 8-10 tornadoes in one day, is unusual. The higher-end structural damage, these kinds of storms happen a few times a decade; those are not common.”
Local residents agree.
“It was a horrible night,” says Kathleen Wood Howe, 62, who hid in her closet for five hours while the storm raged in her hometown of Kettering, a town outside Dayton. A medical biller who’s lived in Ohio for more than 23 years, she says the storm is the worst she’s ever experienced.
A mother of seven, Howe quickly touched base with six of her seven children, but it was hours before she heard from her 24-year-old daughter in the suburb of Fairborn, some 18 miles away, who had lost phone reception when she shut herself away under the stairs with her 2-year-old son.
Howe says sirens sounded for hours in the area on Monday, signaling that people must find a spot to stay safe.
“Ideally, we would hide in a basement, but most people living here don’t have one,” she says, adding that neighbors made due by hiding in closets, wearing bicycle helmets or covering their heads with pillows and mattresses.
With forecasts predicting storms will return to Dayton later Tuesday afternoon, Howe says she and her family, including her six-grandchildren, are “petrified.”
Towns outside of Dayton, including Beavercreek and Northwood, were among those hit the hardest. Houses and schools were damaged, and trees were uprooted and crashed down on cars.
According to the Associated Press, road crews had to use snowplows to clear an interstate littered with debris, and bits of churning wreckage could be seen on radar.
Authorities in Dayton reported a few minor injuries. “Pretty miraculous” said Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne on Tuesday morning, attributing the positive news to people heeding early warnings about the storm.
But Hatzos warns that the region should still brace for more severe weather.
“We have storms predicted through this week,” he says. “There is still a chance of severe weather, especially in northern Ohio. There is a possibility of large hail, strong winds, and possibly tornadoes.”
That worries Ohio residents like Howe, who is still reeling from Monday night’s violent storms.
“I know people who’ve lost their houses. Right now they’re trying to salvage what’s left,” she says. “Even though I was so terrorized last night, I feel even worse now after seeing all the destruction.”