Tornadoes caused extensive damage across the Miami Valley May 27-28, 2019.

Local residents face tough decisions after tornadoes

Days after a record outbreak of tornadoes struck, the initial shock has worn off, but local residents and property owners face hard decisions about what to do next and whether to rebuild or move on.

The region is looking at a long road to recovery, since many homes and apartment buildings are uninhabitable and some commercial buildings were torn apart by the 14 tornadoes that rampaged through the Dayton area and southwest Ohio.

National Weather Service officials said Thursday the tornado that hit Brookville, Trotwood, Harrison Twp., Dayton and Riverside actually was an EF-4 with maximum winds of 170 mph. It previously had been ruled an EF-3 on a scale in which an EF-5 is the highest.

Hundreds of properties that survived need significant repairs, which could be expensive, especially if the owners lack insurance or are under-insured.

“There are thousands of people (whose) lives won’t be the same after this catastrophic event,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

To see whether those who lost property in Monday’s tornadoes — especially those uninsured — are eligible for government assistance, the state of Ohio on Thursday asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assess the damage in 10 counties, including Greene and Montgomery counties, the hardest-hit in the Memorial-Day outbreak now totalling 21 tornadoes statewide.

“If individuals or businesses have uninsured losses due to the severe storms, they need to make sure to share that information with their county emergency management agency,” said Sima Merick, Ohio Emergency Management Agency executive director.

FEMA assessors will likely be on the ground in the state beginning Tuesday, said Jay Carey, Ohio EMA spokesperson.

The team would also survey damage in Auglaize, Darke, Hocking, Mercer, Miami, Muskingum, Perry and Pickaway counties.

A complex set of damage thresholds determines eligibility for federal assistance, low-interest loans or programs for state assistance. A key element is how much storm damage is covered by insurance and how much is uninsured. Damages from wind events, such as tornadoes, are typically covered by homeowners or business insurance, while flood-related damages are often uninsured, according to the Ohio EMA.

Renters who lost property in the tornadoes may also be eligible for assistance, Carey said.

The recovery process is in the earliest stages, and cleanup efforts are expected to take weeks or longer, which typically need to happen before properties can be repaired or rebuilt, officials said.

The city of Dayton and other communities are bracing for what they expect will be a large volume of building permits requests related to tornado and storm damage.

After a disaster, the first priority to try to get life to return to normal is restoring basic utilities, like power, natural gas and full water service, Carey said.

After that, the focus turns to full damage assessment, debris removal and cleanup. Rebuilding comes later.

“Large, powerful tornadoes went through populated areas, causing a tremendous amount of damage,” Carey said. “Oftentimes, recovery from events of this scale are not just measured in weeks, but often months and for full recovery, perhaps even years.”

Some people already have started to work on their properties to replace or board up shattered windows, fix damage to their roofs and cover up holes with tarps.

No permit is required to secure a residence, keep out the elements or prevent a further injury, said Jim Snedeker, the zoning officer in Brookville, where a tornado took out homes along Westbrook Road.

“Do what you need to do to make your place safe,” he said.

It’s preferred to go ahead and push over a wall that’s teetering rather than wait for it to accidentally fall and injure someone, Snedeker said.

Though people are still picking up after the storm, some have already lined up contractors, he said.

Counting the number of damaged properties and determining if they are livable continued Thursday in Montgomery County. Harrison Twp. Administrator Kris McClintick said county officials relayed to him that urban search teams through Wednesday afternoon had searched 1,600 properties in Harrison Twp. and Trotwood, determining 67 destroyed, 193 not habitable and 621 damaged. An official assessment by the county could be complete today.

About 415 properties in Dayton sustained minor to moderate damage during Monday’s tornadoes, while about 45 buildings were severely damaged.

Joseph Guth, 45, who lives on the 1700 block of Troy Street in Dayton, has been sleeping on the couch in his home even though a huge chunk of his upstairs was ripped off by powerful and whirling winds.

Guth’s wife and two children are staying at a hotel, but he has remained at their home to make sure no one tries to steal their possession over night. He painted a sign that reads, “You loot, we shoot.”

Guth said he’s not sure what his family will do next, but he can’t stay in an unsecured home.

Damaged homes are vulnerable because windows, doors and roofs are missing, allowing easy access to the contents inside.

Businesses and other property owners who want to rebuild will need to go through the city of Dayton’s normal permitting process, but city staff are looking at ways to make the process more efficient in coming days, city officials said.

Many emergency repairs like replacing windows, siding and roofing do not require building permits, said Steve Schoener, Dayton chief plans examiner.

But permits are needed when there is structural damage and issues, like the sheathing of the roof is missing, Schoener said. Permits are required to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public by ensuring compliance with the building code, Schoener said.

Schoener said he thinks citizens know to call the building department if they have questions about what projects and repairs need permits.

Schoener said other jurisdictions have reached out to Dayton to offer assistance with reviewing building plans and permits if the city receives an influx of applications.

He said the building permits review plans on a first-come, first-serve basis. He said building permits must be reviewed and approved or rejected within 30 days, and right now, they are issuing decisions within a few weeks.

McClintick, said that while insurance adjusters and state and federal damage assessors may be calculating losses and planning for rebuilding, it’s not the most pressing matter at the moment.

“We are focused on debris removal and providing basic survival needs to our residents now,” he said.

Staff Writer Wayne Baker contributed to this story.

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