MOSCOW, Ohio – Five years after a deadly tornado struck here, some people are still trying to rebuild this tiny village on the Ohio River.
Many others, though, have given up and moved on.
Before the tornado, there were 244 residents. Now, the census says there are 170. That’s a 30 percent drop.
Houses that stood for decades are gone - replaced by vacant lots.
“I call it the retirement home because all that's left around here is older people,” says resident Paula Skeene.
Jeff Richards is one resident who vows to stay, even though his home was severely damaged by the tornado.
Richards says he’ll never forget that day. One-third of the buildings were either destroyed or left uninhabitable. The streets looked like a bomb had gone off.
Richards’ house on Water Street was one of the first to be hit as the twister crossed the river.
“I sat on the Allman Brothers’ speakers when I was about 21 and they were pretty loud, but this was twice that loud,” he said.
The twister tore the roof off his house and blew one wall out of the building.
“It sounded like a machine gun going off – ‘tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat, tat’ - as it's pulling the studs out,” he remembered.
Richards was hurt when a door blew open and knocked him into a wall.
”I saw trees go by my windows and everything like that. It sure felt like you were in the Wizard of Oz a little bit,” he said.
Four generations of the Skeene family crowded into the basement as the storm approached.
“My mom's house came up off the ground, but pretty much sat right back down,” Skeene said. “Everybody was crying, screaming and thinking we weren't going to make it, but we did.”
Samantha Hilberg was on the phone with her mom heading there to pick up her 5-year-old.
“My son was screaming and she says there's a tornado coming and everything went black. I couldn't hear anything,” Hilberg said.
Emotions flowed when she saw the boy.
“He started screaming ‘Mommy,’ and all I can remember is crying, throwing my purse down and running to him. I've never been so happy to see him in my life,” Hilberg said.
Moscow changed on that tragic day. The tornado damaged 80 percent of the structures and claimed one life.
Village Administrator David Plummer has been on the job two years and it's his job to turn things around.
“You can tell by walking through town that there are still issues to be addressed, but we're working through them,” Plummer said.
For example, plans are in the works to offer tax incentives for new development.
“We want Moscow in five years to be a great rural escape for anyone wanting to get just outside of the Cincinnati area who is wanting all the amenities of a big town,” he said.
Despite living through a tornado and the 1997 flood, Richards says his family isn't going anywhere.
“I still love the village and I'm going to stay here until i can't stay here anymore,” Richards said.
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