Tales from the storms: ‘Our whole house is ruined’

Each of the tornadoes that struck the Miami Valley late on Memorial Day whirled with winds of more than 136 mph and harnessed the power to obliterate a well-built home or toss a car.

Area residents today continue to tally the damage wrought by these twisters and the storm that produced them. Sunrise Tuesday revealed hundreds of damaged homes and businesses, more than 130 people injured and a Celina man killed when a parked vehicle was blown into his home as he slept.

Yet despite the tragic death, the outcome was nowhere near as bad as many felt it could have been. Dayton city officials, for example, say a tornado was barreling straight towards Dayton Children’s Hospital.

“Miraculously, I do not know how this happened, but we are grateful it went around Children’s Hospital,” said Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne. “It amazes me. It was going in a trajectory straight for the hospital and went in a different direction before it got there.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency for Montgomery, Greene and Mercer counties — opening a pipeline of state aid — and updated President Donald Trump on the damage.

“My administration fully supports the people of the great state of Ohio as they begin the cleanup and recovery,” Trump said on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.

Brookville police on Tuesday night ordered a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. for two neighborhoods and Brookville Local Schools.

Parts of Montgomery County remained on a boil advisory after power outages caused a loss of water pressure. County officials requested up to a million gallons of bottled water from the state and water tankers.

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More than 50,000 DP&L customers remained without power Tuesday evening. Eighty traffic lights were out in Dayton, as well as more in other communities.

“We want life to return to normal as quickly as possible,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.

A return to normal will be a challenge for many who spent Tuesday reeling from a sense of loss.

“This was my husband’s home, and it has been destroyed,” said Barbara Martin from Butler Twp., standing in front of the home she shared with her husband until he died less than a year ago. The back of the house was caved in. Tears welled up in her eyes.

‘You got to keep things going’

The extent of the damage was unclear in some places Tuesday. Trotwood officials estimated the number of damaged homes in the hundreds in that city alone, but parts of the community were not assessed as of Tuesday afternoon because trees blocked crews from getting access.

“Even in the midst of destruction, you got to keep things going,” said Jeremy Davis, who lives near the intersection of Wolf Road and Goldenrod Court. His truck was buried in tree branches, and across the street his neighbor’s car was also covered in debris. A tree branch also fell on his house, leaving a hole in the roof.

Davis noted, however, that the corner store down the street was still open for business when he went that morning, taking orders with a calculator.

Other stories told Tuesday include neighbors who came together to help one another. This includes Vanessa Schnieders, who saw the funnel cloud Monday night and knew her Old North Dayton neighbors could be in trouble.

Some were outside with their children. Many don’t have basements.

Schnieders and others helped corral more than 15 neighbors into her home on the 1200 block of Valley Street, including one resident in a wheel chair who had to be carried inside.

Moments after getting indoors, the man’s wheelchair blew away.

“I’ve never seen nothing like it,” said the 43-year-old Schnieders. “It was pretty nuts.”

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‘Miracles’ noted

Old North Dayton was the hardest hit part of Dayton, and given the extent of the tornado’s devastation, officials said it’s “miraculous” no one was killed or seriously injured.

The word “miracle” surfaced time and again Tuesday. The Miami Valley has suffered tornadoes in the past, but Monday’s storm brought three of them that the National Weather Service labeled an EF-3. This means they had wind speeds of between 136 and 165 mph — able to toss heavy cars, overturn trains and severely damage large buildings like shopping malls, such as those damaged in Harrison Twp.

Technology helped media

DeWine flew by helicopter over Beavercreek and Trotwood and toured other areas by car. He said the damage he’s seen so far is worse than he thought since there’s been so few deaths.

“Frankly, that’s a testament to the news media for getting the information out there,” he said.

Storm Center 7 Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs said technological innovations have greatly elevated her ability to assess tornadoes forming in real time, and to communicate that information to the public.

“Think about (the storm) coming in the darkness of the night when many people are going to bed, if they had not received those watches and warning to alert them … to turn on whatever it is, radio or TV, to be able to see where these devastating storms are located,” she said.

Viewers who turned in could see Vrydaghs using new technology that can measure debris flying through the air and determine that a tornado is likely occurring with far more accuracy than older technology, she said.

‘The building started to shake’

Dwayne Hollenshed said he and his cousin got tornado warning alerts on their iPhones, but they didn’t expect the worst. They live in the Rivers Edge Apartments in Harrison Twp.

“Five minutes later I got a call from my mother and she was telling me a tornado had touched the ground, and we needed to seek shelter,” he said. “I grabbed my cousin and we grabbed the mattress from my bedroom, and we jumped in the bathtub and put the mattress over us. The building started to shake and then we heard glass breaking and everything. It only lasted maybe 30 seconds and then it was over, and we heard the calm of the storm.”

Hollenshed said people came outside once the storm passed and started checking apartments to make sure everyone was OK. The easternmost building in the complex, just 30 feet from the bank of the Stillwater River, had most of its windows blown out and huge amounts of debris tossed toward the river – everything from large chunks of roof to metal air conditioning units. Concrete balconies were hanging askew off the building.

Hollenshed said he didn’t see any injuries, even in one second-floor corner apartment where the brick wall collapsed 10 feet to the ground in a pile of rubble. Firefighters told him his apartment was unlivable, however, and painted an orange “X” on the door.

Interview from a shelter

Several agencies opened shelters for people displaced by the storm or the power outage. About 150 people were estimated to be using shelters in the county as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, according to Montgomery County officials.

Among those at a Red Cross shelter Tuesday were Cierra Cherry and Chris Gibson. Cherry said Gibson saw the tornado first through the window of of their house near Stanley Avenue and Troy Street in Dayton.

“He told me to run, run, run … here it comes,” Cherry said. “We went into the bathroom, and the next thing we know, it’s just black and (the tornado) is all we hear. It goes over us, and when we come out, the roof is off, the window of my kitchen is busted and glass is everywhere. Our whole house is ruined.”

“Basically the whole block is ruined,” she said. “I’ve been trying not to cry, but it’s hard. It seriously is.”

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