Stories of Survival: Hit by 2 tornadoes in 2 years, farm owner asks, ‘What did we do wrong?’

The Barr family had only just finished making repairs to buildings damaged in an April 3, 2018, tornado when one of last Monday’s 15 Dayton-region tornadoes tore through their Beavercreek Twp. farm.

“I said, ‘It can’t hit us. This is the second one,’” said Mary Ann Barr, 79, who lives with her husband, James Barr, in a pre-Civil War-era house at 1045 Ludlow Road on the 200-acre Barr Family Farm. “You could not believe we got hit the second time. You just think, ‘What did we do wrong?’”

The Barrs were out to dinner when the 2018 tornado struck and came home to find their 1850s-era barn nearly demolished, its silo collapsed, a four-car garage damaged beyond repair, the cattle fences down and the roof of the home damaged, said Jeff Barr, 48, one of the Barrs’ three sons.

This time they were home. After a Memorial Day family gathering, Mary Ann and James had settled in for the night when WHIO-TV reports of a tornado nearby sent them to find shelter in the middle of the house. James, 80, lit candles after electricity went out and glimpsed lawn furniture being tossed about on the back patio. But they had no idea how much damage the twister was doing to their property.

RELATED: Up to 1,000 Beavercreek buildings damaged in tornado

The thick walls kept them from hearing the sound as the tornado ripped off their roof, slamming it to the ground beside the house and scattering decades of possessions stored in the attic. The tornado also tore away the door of a barn where cattle were stabled and it crumpled the door to a brand new barn that had replaced the garage destroyed last year.

When the storm calmed, Mary Ann took a flashlight outside to survey the damage.

“‘Oh my!’ I screamed. ‘The roof!,’” she said. “I called the kids and I said, “The roof. It’s gone.”

Jeff and another son, Ken, also live in houses on the farm and had damage to their houses and trees.

“You could hear stuff hitting the house. We heard weird whistling, howling,” said Ken Barr, 55.

RELATED: Volunteers pitch in to clear away tornado debris in Dayton region

Jeff, 48, his wife, Jill, and son, Brandon, 16, sheltered in their basement.

“We took the TV, took the couch cushions and blankets and stuff and went into our internal bathroom. The dog went with us. The cat didn’t want to go with us so he went downstairs and hid,” said Jeff.

After the worst of the storm passed they headed to the main house, where his parents have lived since the early 1960s. Downed trees and electrical wires made the roads impassable.

“We had just freshly planted the corn, so the field was muddy. I put it in four-wheel drive and I was driving 45-50 miles through the field so I wouldn’t get stuck,” Jeff said. “I succeeded in getting through the field to get up to my parents.”

RELATED: FEMA to tally tornado damages, possibly help uninsured

Brandon immediately went to check on the family's herd of 25 shorthorn cattle, which were in pasture or a barn during the storm. Brandon's show steer, Waylon, had survived the 2018 tornado as a calf when the barn he was in with his mother was hit. This time Waylon, along with Brandon's show heifer, Dolly, were in the barn that had its door ripped off.

“I was very worried about them. They are my babies. They’re very important to me,” said Brandon, as he stood beside Waylon during an interview on Thursday.

“He’s a tornado veteran,” said Brandon, “He’s handled it very well. He was very tame before the storm and he’s about just the same now.”

RELATED: Officials confirm tornado hit Brookville, badly damaging homes, a business and wastewater treatment plant

No cattle were injured during the tornadoes in 2018 or on Memorial Day, said Jeff, who is a Fairborn Baker Middle School sixth-grade science teacher and Beavercreek Middle School track coach.

But dealing with the damage of a second tornado is frustrating and disheartening, especially since the transmission to the farm’s main tractor also went out on Saturday as Jeff prepared to bale hay.

Even so, he said, they feel lucky that no one was hurt and the Barrs are heartened by the many offers of help they have received from friends, many of whom rallied in April 2018 to help clean up the mess from that tornado.

RELATED: Why no tornado sirens? Dayton officials respond

But the storm badly damaged the top of the Mary Ann and James’ house and collapsed its chimney. Mary Ann said the basement has had nearly constant water issues since the 2018 tornado. The home — which got a new roof and siding after the 2018 tornado — has been in the family since Mary Ann’s mother and father bought it in 1957 and she and James cared for her parents and raised Jeff, Ken and a third son, John, in the house.

The Barr family is now looking at making some hard decisions, including whether it is time to build a smaller and more manageable home for James and Mary Ann, who had open heart surgery last June, somewhere on the farm.

“It will just be a ranch. I cry a lot, because you stop and think, the kids grew up here,” said Mary Ann. “Every time I hear about people who lost their house, I feel sorry for them.”

RELATED: Lucky steer in Beavercreek survives second tornado

News Center 7 Reporter Sean Cudahy contributed to this report.

This story is part of a special project, Stories of Survival, focusing on the people of the Miami Valley who survived the Memorial Day tornadoes and are staying strong as the region moves ahead. You can read other stories of survival from around the region here.

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