COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — When the lights began flickering during another bout of thunderstorms, Leo Welsh braced himself for his second power outage in three days and decided there was no point in getting upset.
The first outage at his Columbus home followed winds of up to 80 mph on Friday. While other Ohio residents were told they might be in the dark for days, Welsh's outage lasted about 20 hours.
The second round of storms Sunday knocked out the lights throughout his neighborhood, including the ones that had remained on at the house next door, and Welsh figured it must be his turn to wait. So he packed the food from his refrigerator — plus the food his mother-in-law had brought over when her power went out — carted it to his brother's place in Grandview and patiently addressed his 3-year-old son's questions about when someone might be coming by to fix the TV.
"Getting worked up about it is not going to make the power come on any sooner," said Welsh, 33, a nursing home administrator. Still, he was repeatedly dialing home on Monday, hoping to hear the sweet sound of the answering machine indicating his electricity was back. By lunchtime, there was still no answer.
The Sunday storms expanded the outage lists by the thousands, including some Ohio homes and businesses where power already had been lost and restored. About 445,000 Ohio customers — mostly of American Electric Power Co.— were without power at midday Monday, and residents were scrambling to stay cool as temperatures climbed into the 90s.
Dayton Power and Light planned free ice giveaways to help some of its 17,000 affected customers. Duke Energy Corp. had more than 8,000 customers out.
Federal and state officials and relief workers were trying to determine the biggest and most urgent needs. The Ohio Emergency Management Agency said it was fielding dozens of calls from people who mistakenly thought state and federal officials were offering access to generators for personal use. The agency was redirecting those callers to local 211 hotlines and the American Red Cross for information about cooling shelters.
Gov. John Kasich declared a state emergency during the weekend, called out the National Guard and sought help from President Barack Obama, who declared a federal emergency in Ohio. Federal aid trucks carrying water were sent to six distribution points in southern and eastern Ohio.
About 200 National Guard members were going door-to-door in the Columbus and Dayton areas Monday to check on residents who might need help. Columbus planned to open fire hydrants at four spots Monday afternoon to help residents cool off.
AEP said Friday's storm was Ohio's worst since the state was battered in 2008 by the remnants of Hurricane Ike. Out-of-state reinforcements were limited by big needs in the Washington, D.C., area and neighboring states that were also hit by storms.
In the meantime, many people visited friends and family to enjoy some air conditioning and to charge their cellphones and laptops.
The flashlights that Natalie Driscoll's family bought after the first outage proved useful Sunday when storms cut the electricity again at her home near Springfield.
"My 2-year-old thought it was kind of fun at first," Driscoll said. "She got to play with the new flashlights."
With their power not expected to return before Tuesday evening, Driscoll packed two coolers with food from her refrigerator and freezer and took her two young daughters to stay with her parents in Upper Sandusky, a two-hour drive away. Her husband stayed at home, where Friday's storm had torn the top off their tall pine tree and left it in their yard.
"It looked like somebody pulled a Christmas tree down and laid it in our yard, instead of putting it by the curb," said Driscoll, 28.
In southeast Ohio, more than half of Wayne National Forest was closed to the public and some visitors were asked to leave recreation areas as a precaution while park workers inspected trails for fallen trees and other damage.
Ohio officials confirmed one storm death. A 70-year-old woman died Friday evening in Muskingum County when a barn collapsed after she had gone to check on animals during the storm.
State Treasurer Josh Mandel said small business owners, farmers and other Ohioans might be eligible for interest rate reductions on loans to recover or rebuild from the storm damage. He said he's made $25 million available through the state's Renew Ohio & Rebuild Ohio emergency financing programs.
Sewell reported from Cincinnati. He can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/dansewell . Kantele Franko can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/kantele10 .