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Storms, Tornadoes Rip Midwest, Destroy Houses

May 9, 1996

BEATRICE, Neb. (AP) _ Sue and Gary Epp huddled in their basement bedroom, listening to a tornado suck the windows and their belongings out into the night. Seconds later, the roof ripped off.

At least a dozen homes near Beatrice were destroyed Wednesday night, torn apart by high winds as a string of thunderstorms packing hail, hard rain and tornadoes moved through the Midwest and Ohio Valley.

No major injuries were reported, but the storms forced dozens of people to evacuate and knocked out power to thousands. One person was missing in a flood in Missouri.

In Beatrice, Mrs. Epp said the family didn’t have much time to react to the tornado. ``By the time we hit the floor, we could hear glass breaking,″ she said.

When the storm’s fury had subsided, Epp rushed upstairs and found his brother’s terrified family crouched in the bathtub. Only the bathroom wall remained.

At least 10 people in Beatrice, pronounced bee AT triss, were treated for minor injuries, mostly cuts from flying glass.

The town of about 12,000 was left a mess: Schools were canceled today, and water poured through holes in the roof of the town auditorium.

At the height of the storm, about 80 percent of the town was without electrical power, Mayor Paul Korslund said. Damage could total $5 million, he said.

``I’ve never seen anything like this,″ he said. ``Thankfully, there wasn’t any loss of life.″

Many streets remain closed this morning and about 60 percent of the city remained without power. City Administrator Jim Bauer said a 34,000-volt transmission line that feeds electricity to the city remained down.

Nor did Mother Nature play favorites, said the Rev. Mark Seiker of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Its dome was blown apart, and stones from the high steeple covered the steps of the church today.

Elsewhere, tornadoes toppled trees in southern and southwestern Ohio. High winds knocked out power to about 5,000 American Electric Power customers, mostly on Columbus’ north side and in its suburbs.

In eastern-central Illinois, La Place was under 3 to 5 feet of water and officials evacuated a large portion of the town. More than 100 people fled Birds, Ill., near the Indiana state line, as flash floods moved through the region.

In Seymour, Ind., at least two homes were destroyed and about a dozen houses lost their roofs.

In western Missouri, the storms pushed some rain-swollen rivers out of their banks. In Johnson County, floodwaters swept away a hitchhiker. He was still missing early today; the driver was rescued.

Some roads were flooded near Lincoln, Neb., where about 6 inches of rain fell on Wednesday.

In Beatrice, Epp said any possessions that were left were strewn about, soaked by drenching rains.

``They are just lucky to be alive,″ Epp said of his relatives, looking over property that was littered across the front lawn.

Update hourly