Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Survivor prayed as tornado took roof from house

MILLBURY, Ohio — Shirley White and her daughter were huddled in the bathroom of their Main Street home when a tornado ripped off the roof of their one-story house and nearly took Mrs. White with it.

She felt the storm was sucking her up and struggled to cling to the bathroom sink as mirror shards flew around her.

“I was praying, ‘Please let it stop,'” Mrs. White, 69, tearfully recalled Monday.

The storm tossed three of the family vehicles across the neighborhood, ripped the sheets from their beds and through the roof, and blew out the rear walls of their home. Wrinkled family photos and a collection of broken trinket elephants lie in a ruined mess in the living room. Her daughter, Darlene Sheehy, 49, was stunned to find that the marriage license that her mother framed when she wed her high school sweetheart six years ago was untouched.

“We're alive, not like those other poor families,” Ms. Sheehy said through tears. “I can't imagine their devastation.”

Hundreds were left to pick up after tornado winds of up to 165 mph killed five people and caused at least $100 million in damage in Wood County alone. The storm demolished Lake High School, the township administration building, destroyed at least 50 homes, and damaged dozens more, authorities said.

Gov. Ted Strickland requested federal disaster support for the area during a phone conversation with President Obama Monday. Ottawa also joined Fulton and Wood on the list of counties declared disaster areas by the governor.

Lake Township trustees voted on their own disaster declaration during a special meeting last night.

Mr. Strickland will visit Ottawa County Tuesday to survey storm damage there. He will be at West Trowbridge Road and North Reiman Road in Williston at noon.

Then he plans to return to Millbury to thank volunteers and others who've stepped in to help in the aftermath of the tragedy. That stop is slated for the Lake Township Fire Station No. 2 at 1911 Ayers Road at 1:30 p.m.

Numerous volunteers gathered in Moline, Millbury, and Lake Township Monday to help salvage what was left of about 50 other damaged houses.

The death toll of the storm was revised from seven to five Monday.

“I think what happened is people got double-counted,” Lake Township Police Mark Chief Hummer said. “It feels wonderful to lower the number. I'd much rather be standing out here saying we made a mistake.”

Killed were:

Ted Kranz, 46, of Case Road, the father of Katie Kranz, the Lake High School valedictorian.

Hayden Walters, 4, and his mother, Mary Walters of Main Street, Millbury. The boy was killed during the tornado and Mrs. Walters died later at a Toledo hospital.

Bailey Bowman, 20, of Walbridge, who was picked up and tossed by the tornado as she and her boyfriend were trying to take refuge at the Lake Township police station.

Kathleen Hammitt, a Wauseon resident in her 50s, who was struck by airborne debris while driving on State Rt. 795.

The National Weather Service in Cleveland on Sunday gave the Lake Township tornado a preliminary rating of EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, meaning that its top winds have been estimated at between 136 and 165 mph.

The agency sent additional staff Monday to study storm damage further to determine if the winds may have been even higher.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew for the hardest-hit areas — Main and K streets in Millbury and the area near the Indian Creek subdivision in Moline — remains in effect until further notice, Chief Hummer said.

State Rt. 795 between I-280 and State Rt. 51 remained closed because of damaged power lines Monday, according to ODOT. The road will likely remain closed for several weeks, Chief Hummer said.

The loss of township property has climbed to $5 million. Friendship Park in Millbury sustained about a $100,000 loss with damaged restrooms and gazebos, the township administration and police building was destroyed, and six police cruisers and one fire response vehicle were thrown at least 1,000 feet by the tornado.

Though emergency responders train for disasters that displace them from headquarters, the recent experience was unsettling, the police chief said.

“We practice, train, and prepare for scenarios where we lose our base of operations, but let me tell you, when the rescuers have to be rescued to get others out, it does add a whole other dimension to this,” Chief Hummer said.

The Oregon Police Department and the Wood County Sheriff's Department have lent vehicles to their Lake Township counterparts.

“The cavalry has their horses,” Chief Hummer said. “We're running business as normal.”

Police and township administration operated from Lake Township Fire Station No. 2, 1911 Ayers, and emergency dispatchers for the Lake Township Fire and EMS continued to work out of the Northwood Police dispatch center Monday.

Lake Township police expect to move to the former Ohio Highway Patrol substation on Lemoyne Road in Lake Township by Friday, Chief Hummer said.

Township trustees have contracted with Cousino Harris Disaster Kleenup of Perrysburg Township to prepare the site of the former administration building for demolition, township attorney Tom Hayes said.

The search and rescue operation concluded early Monday, Lake Township Fire Chief Todd Walters said. He noted that mutual-aid response came from all departments in Wood County, as well as Oregon, Jerusalem Township, and Toledo fire departments.

“This is the largest thing that's ever happened here,” Chief Walters said. “It's just phenomenal the help they gave us.”

Estimates of the damage to Lake Township schools were not available Monday, with the high school destroyed, the middle school significantly damaged, and at least some structural damage to the elementary school, Wood County EMA Director Brad Gilbert said.

Lake Local School buses remained overturned and scattered across the ruined campus Monday.

The graduation ceremony for the Lake High School class of 2010 had been scheduled to be held in the school's field house on Sunday afternoon.

With the school destroyed, those plans had to be canceled, but school officials were determined to give the students a proper ceremony, and the graduation will now be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Student Health and Activities Center on the campus of Owens Community College in Perrysburg Township.

Authorities made strides toward streamlining the recovery effort Monday.

A volunteer reception area was created at Grace United Methodist Church, 28010 East Broadway St. in Moline, in order to assign tasks to those willing to help. A first-aid station was set up in St. Peter United Church of Christ, 28505 Main St. in Millbury. The Red Cross accepted and distributed donated bottled water, clothing, and meals out of Mainstreet Church's 705 Center in Walbridge and All Saints Church in Rossford.

The Wood County Health Department officials offered hepatitis shots at the Millbury Fire Hall, 27975 Cummings Rd.

Mainstreet Church's 705 Center was transformed from a house of worship into a warehouse of disaster supplies, with donated cases of bottled water stacked nearly to the ceiling in the lobby.

The church community felt the sting of the storm itself, with its second campus in Millbury bearing extensive damage and the death of members Mary and Hayden Walters. The church's established food pantry and clothing stocks swelled with donations.

Church volunteers helped the Red Cross and Food for Thought distribute 250 sack lunches and at least 300 hot meals to disaster clean-up crews and storm victims Monday, said Carolyn Schermbeck, communications director for Mainstreet Church.

“Everybody knows everybody. We all hurt because our friends have been hurt,” said Tom Caldwell, group life pastor.

Volunteer Emily Keil, 18, of Northwood kept busy organizing the food pantry and clothing donations with her best friend, Krystal Harms, 17. Their friend and classmate, Katie Kranz, lost her father, Ted Kranz, in the storm. Miss Keil said she also knew the Walters boy from church.

“I can't sit around here doing nothing,” Miss Keil said. “I know I'm organizing hangers, but whatever helps, helps.”

Staff writers David Patch, JC Reindl, and Jim Provance contributed to this report.

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