LOUISVILLE – A violent storm system with relentless rains and fierce winds that pounded the southern and central U.S. over the weekend could lead to treacherous flooding in the days ahead.
The system that stretched from Texas to the Canadian maritime provinces left a path of destruction as it cut eastward Sunday: Homes were leveled, trees uprooted, cars demolished. Five people were killed, two in suspected tornadoes. Emergency crews struggled to keep up with calls from drivers stranded by rising floodwaters in many locations.
Flooding will continue to be a threat this week as more rain falls and runoffs continue, Accuweather said. More than 200 river gauges reported levels above flood stage from the Great Lakes to eastern Texas, the Weather Channel reported.
By Sunday, the river gauge near downtown Louisville showed the Ohio River at 34.9 feet. The normal level is about 12 feet. In 1997, the water was measured at 38.8 feet; roughly 50,000 homes flooded, and the Louisville area alone saw $200 million in damage.
Floodwaters on the Ohio River in Louisville and Cincinnati are at their highest level in about 20 years, the Weather Channel said Sunday. The river was forecast to reach moderate flood stage along the southern border of Ohio and West Virginia in the coming days, according to the National Weather Service.
In Adairville, Ky., Dallas Jane Combs, 79, died after a likely tornado struck her home, the Logan County Sheriff’s Department told TV station WKRN.
Two bodies were also recovered from submerged vehicles in separate incidents in the state Saturday.
In southwestern Michigan, the body of a man was found floating in floodwaters Sunday in Kalamazoo, city Public Safety Lt. David Thomas said.
In northeast Arkansas, Albert Foster, 83, was killed when his trailer home toppled under high winds, Clay County Sheriff Terry Miller told KAIT-TV.
At least three people were injured and several Clarksville-area homes were destroyed as the storms tore across Middle Tennessee.
A 15-year-old girl hit by falling debris during an Austin Peay State University basketball game was transported to Tennova Hospital in Clarksville for precautionary reasons, according to Kevin Young of the Austin Peay athletics department.
The National Weather Service confirmed Sunday that a tornado of at least an EF-2 strength, with maximum winds of up to 120 mph, hit the area east of Clarksville.
Kim Nicholson was watching television with her husband when a quick but violent storm slammed into her Farmington home, shaking it off its foundation and ultimately leaving it in a heap of rubble.
Nicholson recalled going downstairs for safety after she received a cellphone alert. When she looked outside, things didn’t seem right: “A weird green color,” she said.
Then winds picked up and “the whole house itself, actually, was like jumping,” she said.
Across a pond from the Nicholsons' destroyed house, Mark and Ruth Laurent surveyed damage to their home. The storm ripped off their entire wrap-around front porch and sent it into the garage across the street. “I’m just glad we walked away from it,” Mark Laurent said.
On Sunday, neighbors flocked to the devastation to help pick up the pieces.
Insulation, household items and framing were strewn about the entire subdivision. Residents worked to rescue a family dog trapped beneath the rubble of a house. A statue of Mary, set upright by a volunteer, was one of the only things left intact on one piece of property.
“To look at what I’m looking at and know we didn’t lose anybody is just a miracle,” Montgomery County Mayor Jim Durrett said Sunday as he surveyed the damage.
In Kentucky, a MetroSafe supervisor told the Louisville Courier-Journal that there had been 75 to 100 phone calls flagging abandoned vehicles and that at least 20 people needed to be rescued from cars and buildings because of rising floodwaters.
Emergency crews were inundated with calls for help from stranded drivers in Evansville, Ind.
“It’s pretty bad out there pretty much everywhere,” said Braden Buss, with Vanderburgh County Central Dispatch Center. “We’re getting high water calls, manhole covers coming off, some residential flooding. Don’t go out if you don’t have to.”
The Cincinnati Police Department reported making numerous water rescues, and road closings seemed to multiply by the hour early Sunday. Many residents had to evacuate; two post offices were relocated.
The weather did exactly what meteorologists feared: It dumped an additional 2-3 inches of rain on already soggy southwest Ohio communities.
“To put that much water on already saturated soil without much vegetation to suck it up — that was what we were most concerned about,” said Kristen Cassady, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington.
In central Ohio on Sunday, police in Shelby County searched for a 6-year-old boy who was swept away in Tawawa Creek. Sheriff Sgt. Aaron Steinke told WHIO-TV late Sunday that the search was being called off for the night.
The deaths in Kentucky and Arkansas on Saturday marked an unfortunate milestone: They were the first linked to a twister in 284 days, ending the USA’s longest streak of days without tornado deaths since accurate records began in 1950, according to NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.
That easily beats the previous record streak of 220 days set from June 24, 2012, through Jan. 30, 2013, said Patrick Marsh, a meteorologist at the center.
Before Saturday, the USA's most recent deadly tornadoes both hit on May 16, 2017, in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Long stretches without a single tornado death are becoming more common: All streaks of 200 days or longer have occurred within the past five years, Marsh said.
An average of 71 people are killed each year by tornadoes, based on data from 1987-2016, the Weather Channel reported.
Novelly reported from Louisville; Miller and Rice from McLean, Va. Contributing: Jake Lowary, Chris Smith, Jason Gonzales, Clarksville Leaf Chronicle; Jamie McGee, Nashville Tennessean; Jessie Higgins and Michael Doyle, Evansville Courier & Press; Carrie Blackmore Smith, Bob Strickley, Jeanne Houck, Shella Vilvens, Cincinnati Enquirer; the Associated Press