MidWest United States, Ferocious Thunderstorms & Scorching Heat

Ferocious thunderstorms, heat and humidity added to the Midwest's flooding misery Friday as thousands of people returned to damaged homes, many without electricity to run fans or pumps.

Michigan was pounded for a second straight day by storms that killed a motorcyclist there and spawned a tornado that ripped out hundreds of trees.

The storm system had struck Chicago on Thursday night with a sudden downpour and 70 mph wind that tore down trees and damaged buildings. In the city's suburbs, part of an industrial facility's roof collapsed, injuring 40 people.

"Out of nowhere, the sky just went black," said Kimber Hall, 20, who was riding her bike along Chicago's Lake Michigan shore when the storm hit. "Sheets of rain. Lightning hit a tree about 25 feet away from me. A branch hit me in the face."

Friday morning, another band of thunderstorms was drenching communities from Missouri, through Iowa and into Illinois and Wisconsin.

Most of southern Iowa was under a flash flood watch through evening as as much as 8 inches of rain fell, the National Weather Service said. In Ottumwa, residents were asked to conserve water because the rain had backed up sewers and flooded a pump room at the water plant. The tap water wasn't contaminated yet, but the city's 25,000 residents were advised to boil it.

Flooding slowed drivers on northern Indiana's busy Interstate 80/94, where officials shut down a 3-mile stretch of the eastbound lands and some of the westbound lanes. Several cities were redirecting traffic because of flooded streets.

In Illinois, forecasters warned residents in the northern part of the state to prepare for flooding as another 2 inches of rain was expected Friday afternoon and evening.

"That's what we're worried about right now," said weather service meteorologist Nathan Marsili. "It could turn out to be a pretty bad flooding situation for the area."

Nearly a week of powerful storms, heavy rain and devastating flooding across the upper Midwest has damaged hundreds of homes and has been blamed for at least 17 deaths.

The powerful storms that hit Illinois blew over a tree in rural Knox County, killing one man on Thursday. In Michigan, a 77-year-old motorcyclist died when his bike hit a fallen tree in Kalamazoo County, the sheriff's office said. Flooding in Ohio was blamed for the death of a 92-year-old man who drowned trying to get to safety after his car became trapped in floodwater near Findlay.

About 310,000 homes and businesses in northern Illinois, 100,000 in Michigan and 30,000 in northern Indiana were without power afterward. ComEd spokesman Tom Stevens said it could take days to restore power for some customers north of Chicago.

While other storms lashed Iowa, Minnesota and Indiana on Thursday, hard-hit Ohio finally got a break, at least from the rain. Instead, the state got temperatures in the upper 90s, making that the cleanup from widespread flooding even more of a struggle.

In Findlay, which saw its worst flooding in nearly a century, people tried to pump water from their basements and tally their losses.

"Most of it's ruined," Joe Lamb said as he sorted through a bin of soaked NASCAR memorabilia, hosing off the mini Dale Earnhardt collector cars and tossing the rest. "Our Christmas stuff, everything."

A day earlier, firefighters and volunteers in boats and canoes had navigated the waist-deep floodwater to rescue their neighbors. Some residents were still stuck in a shelter, where 200 people slept Wednesday night.

In Chicago, a few businesses found a bright side to the storm Thursday night.

"People would not leave," said bartender Nick McCann. "We had $2 margaritas, and people were getting hammered."

About 500 flights at O'Hare International Airport were canceled Thursday evening and others delayed for more than 2 1/2 hours, Chicago Aviation Commissioner Nuria Fernandez said.

Strong wind also knocked down a hangar under construction at the Gary/Chicago International Airport leaving just "a pile of metal," Gary Jet Center president Will Davis said.

In southwestern Wisconsin, the National Guard pumped water to relieve pressure on at least one dam, said Mike Goetzman, a spokesman for Wisconsin Emergency Management. The earthen dam had been eroded earlier this week by water from the weekend thunderstorms.

Iowa officials were keeping a close eye on the Des Moines River, and In the river town of Fort Dodge, crews scrambled to shore up a levee.

At Fox Lake, in northern Illinois, residents were busy stacking sandbags to protect their houses from the rising Fox River, said Ami McEwan, assistant administrator for Lake County.

"Most of them are sandbagging and keeping it at bay," she said.

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Mel Gibson Complies With Terms Of Probation

Hollywood star Mel Gibson has complied with the terms of his probation following an arrest for drink-driving last year which saw him unleash an anti-Semitic tirade, a court heard today.

At a brief hearing in Malibu, Gibson's lawyers provided documentation showing that the 51-year-old Oscar-winning director of Braveheart had regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings since his arrest.

Gibson was arrested in July last year after being caught speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu while drunk.

It later emerged he had made a string of anti-Semitic and sexist remarks to police officers during his arrest.

He pleaded no contest to a charge of driving under the influence and was given three years probation, ordered to pay $US1400 in fines and told to attend AA meetings for four-and-a-half months.

Gibson, who did not appear in court for today's progress hearing, has made a series of public apologies for the remarks.

Judge Lawrence Mira said Gibson must attend court for his next hearing scheduled for February 15.

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Former ABC Manager Jailed over $600,000 Fraud

A former ABC manager has been jailed for a maximum eight years for defrauding the broadcaster of more than half a million dollars.

Mark John Williams, 51, was operations manager in the ABC's news division when, over a period of two years from November 2002, he embezzled around $600,000.

Parramatta District Court was told that with the assistance of a co-accused, Peter Bell, Williams siphoned the money by issuing false invoices.

He also forged credit card signatures and used petty cash and taxi vouchers.

Williams, of Newport, pleaded guilty to the charges.

Judge Mark Marien jailed Williams for eight years, with a non-parole period of four years and nine months.

He will be eligible for parole in April 2012.

Bell, a Melbourne company director, was jailed for at least three years and 10 months, with a maximum six years and six months for his role.

He was also ordered to pay reparations of $248,088 to the ABC, while Williams owes $357,329.

Bell will be eligible for release in May 2011.

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