EDITOR’S NOTE: Dayton Daily News reporters Chris Stewart and Josh Sweigart — joined at times by Storm Center 7 Chief Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs — are traveling the length of the largest of the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes. It tore a path all the way across Montgomery County impacting thousands of homes and businesses. We are gathering people’s stories and investigating obstacles to recovery. This story is part of that coverage. Go here for the full project.
Wanda King had just planted flowers around her back patio on Memorial Day.
“We were just getting everything in place where we liked it,” she said.
But later that day, nature would soon upend Wanda and Albert King’s home and the lives of thousands in the region.
On a night already rife with tornadoes — five in just 45 minutes — a sixth spun up in a soybean field just west of the King’s home in Perry Twp. It crossed North Sulphur Springs Road and mowed down a grove of mature trees.
The King’s property on Crawford Toms Run Road west of Brookville was next in its path.
They made it to the basement just in time.
“As soon as we got to the bottom of the steps, we heard a boom,” Wanda King said. “We thought it was a transformer, but it was the roof.”
They were downstairs not even 10 minutes when their house and barn became the first structures destroyed by the tornado in Montgomery County, according to a damage map assembled later by the auditor’s office.
Ultimately, the map would show more than 4,400 parcels in the county affected and 915 structures rendered uninhabitable, most of the damage resulting from the massive EF4 tornado that started near the King’s house.
“It was a miracle that no one was killed. So many houses were destroyed,” Albert King said.
Dozens of volunteers showed up during the next days to help the Kings pick up the pieces: a family from Springfield, a woman and her two children from Wilmington, and “from all around neighbors we don’t even know came,” Wanda King said.
The Kings, who were insured, are renting a house in Brookville until they can rebuild on the spot where they’ve lived for 16 years.
Construction on a new barn has already started. Work on the house will take longer. The foundation and floor that remain of the two-bedroom, brick ranch will need to be removed. The Kings are working with an architect to design a replacement, they said.
Wanda King is typically the one helping others after natural calamities as a longtime volunteer with Children’s Disaster Services.
“Usually when there’s a disaster, I’m on the other side,” said Wanda King, who has responded to disasters in places like Houston, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La.
But she couldn’t join her colleagues who arrived in the Dayton region to help children cope with storm-induced trauma.
“It was hard to say, ‘No, I’m not available,’ when it’s in my own backyard,” she said. “If we hadn’t been hit, I would have gone.”
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