Walking the path of the storm: Devastation lingers 6 months after tornadoes

Six months after more than a dozen tornadoes ripped through the Miami Valley, News Center 7 and Dayton Daily News have found challenges and triumphs among the ruins and repairs.

Dayton Daily News reporters Chris Stewart and Josh Sweigart and Storm Center 7 Chief Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs walked the path of the storm, gathering people’s stories and learning more about the obstacles victims still face today.

>> Miami Valley Tornadoes 2019

The largest of the 15 Memorial Day tornadoes was an EF4.

For 32 minutes, it ripped apart 4,000 Montgomery County properties over a 20-mile path.

Half a year later, many Trotwood and Brookville residents are still trying to rebuild their lives.

Terrace Park was one of the first neighborhoods hit on May 27.

Altogether, 70 percent of the subdivision’s 192 homes were severely damaged or destroyed.

One resident, Kayla Benton, rushed back to her Brookville home from work that night.

“I could hear the tornado sirens for a split second,” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘Oh, we should probably get in the hallway.’”

That saved Benton and her family.

“It went quiet and then the tornado came right down the street,” she said.

Now, her family’s home is a large, unrecognizable slab.

Bob Elkins, a landlord in the neighborhood said none of his three tenants were injured during the tornado.

>> ‘I want to come back to Brookville.’ Homes still in rubble as neighbors work to rebuild

But the extensive damage mean that his renters immediately lost their homes and Elkins and his wife lost that income.

Though they’re rebuilding, Elkins and his wife won’t be landlords anymore.

“My wife and I decided after the repairs are made we’re going to sell them,” he said.

In all, most of the 228 Brookville homes damaged were in Terrace Park.

When Dayton Daily News and Storm Center 7 started walking the storm’s path in October, Brookville City Manager Sonja Keaton said 161 of those homes either had work completed or crews were making minor repairs.

However, Benton’s dad, Ed Kirklin, said the family has decided to move because that night’s constant visual reminder is just too much.

For some Terrace Park residents, time seems to be frozen, Dayton Daily News reporters discovered.
"Some houses look like they weren't even touched," said reporter Josh Sweigart. "Some houses are gone completely; others look like the storm was yesterday."

Gloria and Kevin Pennington can’t imagine raising their kids anywhere else. But others are grappling with insurance battles and debating their futures.

>> PHOTOS: Walking the path of the tornado — rubble and recovery in Brookville

“One in three were destroyed or had major damage,” said reporter Christ Stewart. “You can tell how kind of hit and miss it was.”

After pummeling the Brookville and Perry Twp. area, the storm barreled along the Clayton and Trotwood border, affecting 1,100 properties.

At this point, the EF4 tornado’s path was growing to its highest wind speeds — close to 170 miles per hour — taking down trees and landmarks like Hara Arena.

The night was full of scary memories for Trotwood’s Meckila Bent.

She and her dog survived by huddling in the bathroom.

“We heard the vent in the bathroom,” she said. “‘T-t-t-t-t,’ like that, and it kept getting faster.”

It was reminiscent of the night she held onto a pole in a basement during Xenia’s deadly 1974 EF5 tornado.

“I went through the April 3, 1974 tornado,” she recalled. “Who knew that I would be going through it again?”

Bent moved to Trotwood’s Shilo Gardens subdivision one month before the tornado.

Despite having insurance and moving back months ago, boards still line her windows.

>> ‘Just hoping that we were going to live through it’

Like many others in the neighborhood, she said she’s struggled with contractors.

One tree trimmer seen in Shilo Gardens was finishing the work someone else was paid to do.

The contractor backlog has also meant delays.

The storm displaced about 1,800 Trotwood ersidents.

When our team walked the path of the storm, at least 750 homes were still empty.

In total, 200 properties suffered major damage or were destroyed, including New Destiny Ministries.

“We had damages to the roof and the exterior has been taken care of,” said Bishop Alfred Ringer.

But he feels blessed that insurance has covered most of the repairs and nearby churches are helping them rebuild.

“They brought their members over and that just showed you the heart of Dayton,” he said.

>> Miami Valley tornadoes: Walking the Path of the Storm

The Dayton Daily News reported that even a temporary population decline could have far-reaching consequences.

The U.S. Census Bureau’s national headcount, which affects federal funding for the next decade, if just months away.

City officials are urging any displaced residents to report their permanent address as Trotwood.

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