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Published: Wednesday, 6/9/2010

Federal disaster relief to be sought; Strickland, Kaptur vow to intercede

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MILLBURY, Ohio — Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland plans to file paperwork with the federal government today that could get U.S. government disaster assistance for northwest Ohio's tornado-ravaged victims, a request he told President Obama would be forthcoming during a telephone conversation he had with him Monday.

And U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), who yesterday toured some of Ottawa County's worst destruction with the governor, was to fly back to Washington and bring up the matter in person last night in a private meeting with Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, according to Mr. Strickland, who earlier had declared a state of emergency for Fulton, Ottawa, and Wood counties.

Mr. Strickland said he wasn't sure if Saturday night's massive destruction will, ultimately, be deemed widespread enough in the federal government's eye to qualify for assistance at that level. But he said it is important to try.

Equally important to the governor, though, was the composure he saw in the face of 11-year-old Devon Wyatt, a boy who narrowly survived the ordeal with his family.

The youth and his father, Doug Wyatt, 41, told Mr. Strickland what was going through their minds when a tornado damaged their home and flattened their barn on Reiman Road in Ottawa County's Allen Township.

Devon said he spent the first two days crying so much he didn't think he had any tears left. A strange situation, he said, was finding a wheelbarrow — something everyone needed for cleanup — in his bedroom. It belonged to some other family, and had crashed through his bedroom window.

Jami Wyatt leaves what remains of her home on Reiman Road in Ottawa County's Allen Township. Jami Wyatt leaves what remains of her home on Reiman Road in Ottawa County's Allen Township.
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The Wyatt family, which includes Mr. Wyatt's wife, Jami Wyatt, 39, and Devon's little sister, Lauren Wyatt, 8, ducked into the basement immediately after arriving home. The tornado struck five minutes later.

“We just covered up the kids with blankets and covered them with our bodies. We were just petrified,” Mr. Wyatt told the governor.

Added Devon: “You could hear the whole house creaking.”

Even though Mr. Strickland had seen some of the region's worst destruction two days earlier in Wood County's Lake Township, he said he was genuinely caught up in emotion as he hugged the Wyatt youth and told his parents how proud they should be of him.

“I was amazed at his confidence, how he could describe things in such detail,” Mr. Strickland told reporters later. “I could have cried, but I also felt a joy just talking to that young guy.”

About an hour later, when he revisited the destruction along Main Street in Millbury, Ohio, the governor paused and looked out on the horizon.

In the foreground were more flattened homes. In the distance were chunks of vinyl siding and other pieces of those homes, strung up on a row of trees like laundry on a clothesline.

The middle section of that tree line was eerily bare. Stripped of foliage and with broken limbs scattered about, it showed where the killer tornado had exited Millbury en route to Ottawa County.

“It's like a war zone,” Mr. Strickland said amidst the piles of debris.

It wasn't Mr. Strickland's first war analogy. When chatting with Mr. Wyatt and his son, he told them that the family had practically experienced being “in the foxhole” together by seeking refuge in their basement.

Millbury Mayor Michael Timmons nodded. “It's like somebody blew up your house,” he said.

Seconds earlier, retired Lucas County Solid Waste Director Jim Walters, dressed in waders, tried not to cry as he made one simple request of them.

He was in dire need of a pump so that he and other family members could salvage what little remained in the home of his brother, Ryan Walters.

The house was leveled. To salvage anything, the family needed a pump to remove standing water from the basement.

Jim Walters told the governor he was personally appealing to him because he's “the top dog.” Mr. Strickland and Mr. Timmons promised to have a pump delivered that afternoon.

Ryan Walters and his wife, Mary, apparently were asleep upstairs when the tornado struck, as were their children, daughter Maddison, 8, and son Hayden, 4, according to family members.

Ryan and his daughter are hospitalized at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo. His wife and son died. Ryan is in critical condition in the intensive care unit, according to his brother. Maddison remains hospitalized with broken bones, but is improving, he said.

“I'm trying to be strong. It's tough,” Jim Walters said.

Across Main Street from the Walters' home was another flattened house, one that belonged to Duane Lender, 44.

He said he joined his wife, Traci, 38, their son, Nathaniel, 5, mothers-in-law, Charleen Welinger and Mary Ann Bourdo, and their three dogs, Doc, Lola, and Fritz, in the basement of the house “with probably 10 seconds to spare.”

As more details emerged yesterday about what happened in Ottawa County, where homes were similarly damaged to those in Fulton, Wood, Monroe, and Lenawee counties, state and local officials discussed ways of cleaning up the mess faster and helping victims mend their fractured lives.

Twenty-five Ottawa County dwellings sustained significant damage, with 11 of them considered destroyed.

Another 21 were affected to a lesser extent, Jim Sass, the county board's vice president, said.

In several homes along State Rt. 579, east of Williston, between Opfer-Lentz and Nissen roads, the second floors were damaged or obliterated. Various barns, garages, and trailers were wiped out.

Ottawa County's worst destruction was in Allen Township along Reiman, between Trowbridge and Moline-Martin roads, Mr. Sass said.

The home of Tim Miller, 50, on North Reiman was flattened, and five vehicles were destroyed.

He said he literally dove into his basement after watching the storm from his front porch.

He ran for safety after seeing a twister snap electrical transformers in the distance, near Lake High School. It headed straight for his house.

“All we heard was just a bunch of lumber snapping,” he said. He joined his wife, Debbie, 46; daughter, Casey, 17; their dogs, and their cat in the basement.

Ottawa County officials have set up a blue tent on Reiman and Stone Ridge Trail, south of Trowbridge, to help tornado victims fill out forms for building permits and other matters.

A lost-and-found also has been established inside the Genoa High School athletic complex.

State Emergency Management Agency Director Nancy Dragani said the Ohio Department of Transportation plans to provide garbage bins and assist with hauling this morning.

Contact Tom Henry at:thenry@theblade.comor 419-724-6079.



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