1 dead, at least 130 injured as tornadoes rip through Ohio, Indiana

One person is killed and at least 130 injured after a rapid-fire line of apparent tornadoes tear across Indiana and Ohio, packed so closely together that one crossed the path carved by another.

Ohio governor declares state of emergency in 3 hard-hit counties

Danielle Taulbee, 24, works to collect memorabilia from her grandmother's damaged house after a tornado touched down overnight in Brookville, near Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)

One person was killed and at least 130 were injured after a rapid-fire line of apparent tornadoes tore across Indiana and Ohio overnight, packed so closely together that one crossed the path carved by another.

The storms were among 55 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down Monday across eight states stretching eastward from Idaho and Colorado. The past few weeks have seen unusually high tornado activity in the U.S., with no immediate end in sight.

The winds peeled away roofs, leaving homes looking like giant dollhouses. They knocked houses off their foundations, toppled trees, brought down power lines and hurled so much debris that it could be seen on radar. At one point, highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an Ohio highway because the wreckage was so thick.

Towns just outside Dayton, Ohio, took some of the heaviest hits.

Francis Dutmers and his wife headed for the basement of their home in Vandalia, about 16 kilometres outside Dayton, when the storm hit with a "very loud roar" Monday night. The winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with debris and took down most of his trees.

"I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands," he said.

'War zone'

In Celina, Ohio, 81-year-old Melvin Dale Hannah was killed when winds blew a parked car into his house, Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said Tuesday.

"There's areas that truly look like a war zone," Hazel said.

More than two dozen of the injured were admitted to hospitals.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in three hard-hit counties, allowing the state to suspend normal purchasing procedures and quickly provide supplies like water and generators.

Sue Taulbee, 71, watches as her family works to collect memorabilia from her damaged house after a tornado touched down overnight in Brookville, near Dayton, Ohio. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)

Meanwhile, a twister described by the National Weather Service as large and potentially dangerous touched down just before 6:30 p.m. local time Tuesday in the tiny town of Pleasant Grove, Kan., a township of about 100 people 80 kilometres west of Kansas City, Mo.

The entire Kansas City area was under a tornado warning at some point Tuesday evening, with a tornado reported in Lawrence, Kan., and the storms moving east over the heart of the metropolitan area of 2.1 million people that straddles the Kansas and Missouri border.

Heavy rain was falling on already-saturated soil, creating renewed concerns about flooding, including flash flooding.

Dozens of storms reported

Storm reports posted online by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center showed 14 suspected tornadoes touched down in Indiana, 12 in Colorado and nine in Ohio. Seven were reported in Iowa, five in Nebraska, four in Illinois, three in Minnesota and one in Idaho.

Monday marked the record-tying 11th straight day with at least eight tornadoes in the U.S., said Patrick Marsh, a Storm Prediction Center meteorologist. The last such stretch was in 1980.

"We're getting big counts on a lot of these days, and that is certainly unusual," Marsh said.

To the west, thunderstorms dropped hail as large as tennis balls in Colorado, while dozens of drivers in Nebraska pulled off Interstate 80 with broken windshields.

A tornado with winds up to 225 km/h struck near Trotwood, Ohio, a community of 24,500 people located 12 kilometres from Dayton, where Mayor Mary McDonald reported "catastrophic damage." Several apartment buildings were damaged or destroyed, including one complex where the entire roof was torn away, and at least three dozen people were treated at emergency rooms for cuts, bumps and bruises.

A car and truck sit crushed by a tree after a tornado touched down overnight in the city of Trotwood, near Dayton, on Tuesday. (Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters)

McDonald said five busloads of displaced residents were taken to a church that opened as a shelter.

Just before midnight, about 40 minutes after that tornado cut through, the weather service tweeted that another one was crossing its path, churning up enough debris to be visible on radar.

In Dayton, only a few minor injuries were reported. Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne called that "pretty miraculous," attributing it to people heeding early warnings about the storm.

Some of the people treated at the area's Kettering Health Network hospitals were hurt during storm cleanup, while others may have waited before seeking treatment from storm injuries, said spokesperson Elizabeth Long.

Mayor Nan Whaley urged people to check on their neighbours, especially those who are housebound. A boil-water advisory was issued after the storms knocked out power to Dayton's pumping stations. Dayton Power & Light said more than 50,000 customers remained without electricity and restoration efforts could take days.

Many roads in the Dayton area were also impassable.

The Indiana town of Pendleton, which is about 56 kilometres northeast of Indianapolis, was also heavily damaged by a twister late Monday. At least 75 homes were damaged in the area, said Madison County Emergency Management spokesperson Todd Harmeson. No serious injuries were reported.

A tornado tears through Wabash County, Ind., on Monday. Storm reports show 14 suspected tornadoes have touched down in the state. (Will Woodward/Twitter/Reuters)

Residents were being urged to stay in their homes Tuesday morning because of downed trees, wires and utility poles. 

"People are getting antsy. I know they want to get outdoors, and I know they want to see what's going on in the neighbourhood," Harmeson said, "but we still have power lines down. We still have hazards out there."

Outbreaks of 50 or more tornadoes are not uncommon in the United States. It's happened 63 times in the country's history, with three instances of more than 100 twisters, Marsh said. But Monday's swarm was unusual because it happened over a particularly wide geographic area and came amid an especially active stretch, he said.

As for why it's happening, Marsh said high pressure over the southeastern U.S. and an unusually cold trough over the Rockies are forcing warm, moist air into the central U.S., triggering repeated severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. And neither system is showing signs of moving, he said.

Daniel Williams of Clayton, Ohio, walks through his damaged house after a tornado touched down in the area overnight. (Kyle Grillot/Reuters)