If Michael Santana had waited a few more seconds to take shelter in his bathroom on Nimitz Road, he may not have narrowly escaped a tree limb shooting through his bedroom ceiling into his bathroom during Monday night’s tornado.
If his daughter had been asleep in her bed, shattered windows would have covered her in glass.
“When things like this happen you think, ‘It won’t happen to me’ — but in the end, sometimes it does and you’re stuck there dealing with the aftermath,” Santana said.
The 27-year-old Wright State University student and Army veteran was rushing through last-minute homework when the lights flickered and the house he’d lived in for eight months shook during storms that brought 14 tornadoes into the Miami Valley. One was an EF-4 tornado that ripped through his neighborhood in Overlook Homes in Riverside.
“I heard that it was raining outside, but I didn’t know that it was a tornado. I felt another shake and the lights flickered and I figured, OK, that’s enough for me to know that it’s time to seek some shelter,” Santana said.
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He gathered up his animals — two parrots, a lizard and a hamster — and ran to the bathroom to wait out the storm.
“Just as soon as I clicked the door shut an 8-inch log just shot in front of my face, splashed me with debris…If I was about a half-second slower, it probably would have pierced the side of my head going into the restroom,” Santana said.
Santana spent 45 minutes trapped inside his bathroom calling for help before neighbors were able to kick in his front door and take a sledge hammer to his bathroom door.
“Luckily none of my animals were hurt, and I only suffered some bumps and bruises from falling,” Santana said.
More luckily, he said, his two daughters, 3 and 6 years old, were a mile down the road at their mother’s house. He was glad they weren’t in bed that night, where he found shards from a broken window sticking out of the pillows where one of them slept.
Tori Santana and the two girls took shelter on the bathroom floor watching Netflix shows. Rosie, Santana’s 6-year-old, said they cuddled and watched TV and “that was it.” Their home had little damage.
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“As soon as everything calmed down, I called them but with all the lightning I wasn’t able to really get through. I was just hoping at the time that everything was OK because there was nothing I was going to be able to do while I was trapped in the bathroom, so panicking wasn’t an option,” Santana said.
His neighbors quickly began searching homes and clearing roadways.
“It’s scary to feel like you’re alone, but it’s nice to know that you’re not as alone as you thought,” Santana said. “Everyone came out, even people who didn’t live around here came out. There were at least a dozen chainsaws running all night long,” he said.
Overlook Homes was one of the most heavily damaged communities in Riverside. Two homes in addition to Santana’s on Nimitz Road lost their roofs. Several people along the tornado’s path lost vehicles and nearly every home on Nimitz Road had a broken window, fallen limbs or power lines draped across yards.
Santana, Tori and their two daughters are still dealing with the effects of the storm. Santana lost his house, motorcycle and car. His renter’s insurance is paying for him to stay in a hotel while he looks for a new unit at Overlook Homes, but there are few available.
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Tori’s house wasn’t destroyed, but without power, the heat has made breathing difficult, especially for their youngest daughter who has sleep apnea. And every time it rains, it sparks a little panic, Tori said.
“It’s been hard driving around town, especially with the kids because they have a lot of questions,” she said. “His house being destroyed, it messed up visitation with the kids … and they’ve been worried about him.”
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.