Storm turns Harrison Twp. apartments into matchsticks

A likely tornado Monday night caused extensive damage to homes at Rivers Edge Apartments in Harrison Twp.

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A likely tornado Monday night caused extensive damage to homes at Rivers Edge Apartments in Harrison Twp.

Residents of the Rivers Edge Apartments in Harrison Twp. rode out a likely tornado late Monday night, then wandered out at first light to find stunning damage to their homes near the Stillwater River.

Half of the top floor was sheared off one building in the 4300 block of Riverside Drive, affecting half a dozen apartments. People’s couches and mattresses were hanging off the edge of the building, as roofs were gone, walls became matchsticks and living rooms were open to the sky.

The night before, the storm roared through around midnight. Dwayne Hollenshed said even after he and his cousin got tornado warning alerts on their iPhones, they didn’t expect the worst.

“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. 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.

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. Furniture, appliances and debris were strewn every which way inside the apartments. Concrete balconies were hanging askew off the building.

Many huge trees along the riverbank were knocked flat, all falling to the southeast as the storm came from the northwest. Other trees were sharpened like pencils, as they snapped in half and had their bark stripped away. One Dumpster in the parking lot was tossed out of place into the side of a car, and flying pieces of plywood impaled themselves in the buildings’ roofs.

Hollenshed said the fire department came through at first light, about 6 a.m., and went through the complex unit-by-unit, knocking on doors.

“At that point, we were in the apartment. We had just gone to sleep because there was nowhere to go,” he said. “They woke us up and told us our apartment was unlivable, and then they put the orange ‘X’ on the door.”

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