MILLBURY — Wednesday will mark three years since a tornado swept through Lake Township and surrounding communities, an event that township Trustee Richard Welling still lives daily through others.
Collecting the accounts of what really happened that night from survivors is something Mr. Welling has focused on since about six months after the tornado hit. The oral-history stories, which were collected by a group of five volunteers, soon turned into highly emotional events, Mr. Welling said.
“It kind of got draining after awhile,” he said. The project was temporarily stopped after volunteer Gene Gilsdorf, who was responsible for formulating many of the questions that were asked, died in April.
Mr. Welling said many personal accounts from that night have been collected, but there are still people whom the volunteers would like to interview, including the Lake Township police chief and the Lake Township fire chief. He hopes the project will resume this summer.
Initially, he said the need to provide time to heal was a major factor.
“I figured it might be best to just let things settle down for awhile,” Mr. Welling said. “A lot of people were reluctant to talk to us.”
Seven people died and more than 100 buildings were destroyed in the Lake Township area. Other parts of northwest Ohio, including portions of Fulton and Ottawa counties, as well as Dundee in Monroe County, Michigan, were significantly affected.
The Lake Township twister, which struck June 5, 2010, brought a 8-mile path of destruction and injured more than 30 people. The National Weather Service office in Cleveland confirmed the tornado had winds estimated between 136 and 165 mph.
During the oral-history interviews, the volunteers took a photo of the interviewee and then made a sound recording that was put on a DVD.
Mr. Welling said he hopes to make copies of the recordings and distribute them to local libraries. Putting the histories into a book is also planned, he said.
Making connections with those who wanted to talk about what they experienced led Mr. Welling to hear the stories of a man who chased the storm and a man who was in a building that sustained significant damage.
Tony Everhardt said a sudden sign that bad weather was imminent was one of the main aspects of June 5, 2010, that he remembers.
As a ham radio operator, he said he recalled following the storm and keeping his thoughts on where it was heading.
“I was watching the radar. I could see this thing building up,” he said.
Heavy rain and hail started just as the storm entered adjoining Lucas County, Mr. Everhardt said.
“That’s when it started getting really bad,” he said.
Standing out on his porch, Mr. Everhardt observed a tell-tale change.
“The wind’s blowing normal and right out of the blue, the wind started blowing really hard,” he said.
Mr. Everhardt said he observed a series of electrical flashes on State Rt. 795 near Oregon Road, which to him also hinted that a tornado was quickly on its way.
He said there was a report on the radio about the twister, so he grabbed his keys and took off in his car to chase it down.
Heading toward Moline Road, he said he saw a car in a ditch and a passenger inside. “It looked like a bomb blew up,” Mr. Everhardt said.
Nathan Eikost, who was working in the Lake Township Police Department building when the tornado struck, echoed Mr. Everhardt's descriptions of destruction.
“Everything just happened so fast. Probably the biggest thing was that I just couldn’t believe that it was actually a tornado. My mind did not process that [that] quickly,” he said.
Describing how he and two other co-workers took shelter in a closet in a hallway of the police building, he said when it was over there was significant damage to the building, but he wasn't injured.
But none of that mattered, Officer Eikost said, adding that it was the department’s duty to help the community.
“We had a job that we had to get done,” he said. “We had police departments and fire departments from all over the area coming to our aid.”
The community has continued to band together years after the disaster and has rebuilt several structures, including Lake High School.
For the second anniversary of the tornado, a service was held at Millbury Veterans Memorial Plaza, where a memorial gazebo was unveiled to the public. The memorial features a stone that lists the names of the seven people who died.
As the third anniversary approaches, Mr. Welling said he is unaware of any activities planned to remember the event in the township, but he has high hopes the weather will cooperate.
“We're just hoping we can get through without any bad weather,” he said.
Contact Kelly McLendon at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6522 or on Twitter @KMcBlade.