OTTAWA, Ohio - National Weather Service investigators were so busy assessing tornado damage in northern Indiana yesterday they couldn't get to Putnam County until today to determine what caused damage across the county Wednesday night.
Sheriff James Beutler said he didn't need to wait to hear their assessment.
“It's pretty obvious what happened. It's obvious it was tornado action,” the sheriff said. “There were items driven into the ground. Wind doesn't drive items into the ground ... plus it happened in a direct line. You can plot a straight line of the damage from the southwest corner of the county to the northeast corner. Wind doesn't travel in a straight line. Tornadoes do.”
Putnam County and much of northwest Ohio took a clobbering from high winds and heavy thunderstorms Wednesday evening. Trees and utility poles were strewn across roads and atop houses and cars in several areas.
In Wood County, about 580 residents of Cygnet, North Baltimore, and Rudolph were still without electricity last night after utility poles along a nearly two-mile stretch of Rudolph Road were sheared off by the high winds.
The American Red Cross opened a shelter for affected residents “to sleep or to just warm up” yesterday at the First United Methodist Church on East Wooster Street in Bowling Green, said Ken Robinson, Wood County district office director.
In Ottawa, workers in the base factory at Philips Components were sent home about 8 p.m. Wednesday after a 50-square-foot hole was ripped open at the plant. The storm also opened up a 2,700-square-foot hole in a nearby Philips warehouse.
No one was injured, and company spokesman Cordell Barker said the plant hoped to be back in production by last night.
“Right now only bits and pieces of the operation are running - not the main manufacturing processes,” Mr. Barker said. “It's starting to look like there's not as much damage as we first thought in terms of the equipment, though.”
Several streets remained closed yesterday in Ottawa, where village crews were working to clear downed trees. Residences in Ottawa, Columbus Grove, and Leipsic were without power for hours after the storm.
Sheriff Beutler said he saw “two barns down, a couple roofs ripped off, a garage ripped off a house, and a bunch of trees down.”
The Robert Maag residence on County Road 10-K southwest of Ottawa lost a barn, part of another outbuilding, and part of the house.
Steve Odenweller, coordinator of Putnam County's Office of Public Safety, said it was the worst wind damage he had seen in his 10 years on the job, but he was not as quick to blame it on a tornado.
“I'd have to say it's a definite maybe,” Mr. Odenweller said. “We aren't sure. There are some areas where it looks like it possibly was and some areas where it looks like it definitely wasn't. I'm guessing that maybe we had straight-line winds that were possibly hiding some tornadic activity inside.”
He said Ottawa suffered substantial damage - much of which he was recording in photographs since residents were quickly cleaning up the mess yesterday.
“It was pretty significant for us. We're just lucky nobody got hurt,” Mr. Odenweller said.
Mike Sabones, meteorologist with the Northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service, which covers eight northwest Ohio counties, said investigators would be in Putnam County today.
“We'll look at the damage, try to determine the width of the path, where it's moving, and compare what we see with what we have on radar,” he said. “We did issue a tornado warning for Putnam County so I know the potential was there.”