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Tornado, storms wreak havoc in the Midwest

Chandrajo Ushman, 5, sits inside her father's truck after winds destroyed her home in Loami, Ill., on Wednesday. Twelve homes were destroyed and another 12 were damaged in the town. Tornadoes also were reported in  Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
Chandrajo Ushman, 5, sits inside her father's truck after winds destroyed her home in Loami, Ill., on Wednesday. Twelve homes were destroyed and another 12 were damaged in the town. Tornadoes also were reported in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
Jason Johnson, Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Powerful winds slammed parts of four Midwestern states on Wednesday, leaving behind shattered windows, toppled power lines and a handful of injuries. At least a half dozen suspected tornadoes were reported.

The National Weather Service received reports of a possible tornado near downtown Minneapolis, where winds tore off part of a 90-year-old metal church steeple. Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois were also hit, though the only confirmed tornado as of Wednesday night was in Hastings, about 30 miles southeast of Minneapolis, where a 100-yard-long swath of trees was flattened.

Jack Freitag said he was standing in the lobby of the Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis when he saw "a wall cloud from the south coming across the parking lot." Then a "very loud roar" came through as he saw signs being blown around in the wind.

The wind tore off part of the church's 90-year-old metal steeple around 2 p.m. while about 120 people were inside, said church spokesman Joe Bjordal.

"I was worried about the people then," said Freitag, who told everyone to seek shelter in the church's basement. No one was injured.

Outside the church, strong winds ripped apart large outdoor tents and scattered chairs and folding tables across the parking lot that were set up for the national Evangelical Lutheran Church in America convention. The church was scheduled to serve breakfast to guests attending the event at the Minneapolis Convention Center next door.

"I think we're out of business" for entertaining convention visitors, Bjordal said.

At the Electric Fetus, a landmark independent music store near downtown, strong winds shattered one of the store's windows and caused the roof to cave in.

"It was just the loudest crashing noise," said Stephanie Covart, the store's co-owner. "We didn't know what was happening."

A glass panel on a nearby bus shelter was shattered, leaving scattered pieces of glass on the sidewalk.

Meteorologist Dan Luna said it was the sort of storm that meteorologists dread — it didn't look dangerous until it was.

"We worry about the really benign thunderstorm that develops a tornado in the metropolitan area," Luna said. "These short-lived ones form very quickly and dissipate very fast. They are very hard to predict."

Luna said crews would evaluate the damage in downtown Minneapolis to see if there was more.

About 40 miles north, in the town of North Branch, police said the middle school suffered severe water and structural damage from a reported tornado.

A large section of the school's roof was damaged and the white bleachers on its athletic field were ripped apart and scattered.