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One year later: Beavercreek tornado recovery steady, but slowed by pandemic

Anchor Evan Millward returns to his hometown
Posted at 8:21 AM, May 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-27 18:25:54-04

BEAVERCREEK — One of Beavercreek's oldest neighborhoods now looks like one of its up-and-comers.

Gardenview, in the northwest part of the city across I-675 from Wright Patterson Air Force Base, is made of homes built in the 1950s and 60s. But it took the brunt of an EF-3 tornado on Memorial Day 2019.

One year after that tornado touched down, nearly destroying the entire neighborhood, only a handful of homes weren't rebuilt or renovated. Progress continued over this Memorial Day weekend, despite slowdowns during the pandemic.

One lucky 1975 Dodge Dart

Dale Wissman's home on Wendover Drive is brand new. In fact, he made a major change when he rebuilt it after the tornado.

"The reason I moved here was all the trees, the shade, the quiet neighborhood," he said. The problem was, he couldn't see the wooded area behind his home. "The way the house was turned, I couldn't see the woods so this was the perfect opportunity to do that."

Dale Wissman's home
Dale Wissman stands in his Beavercreek home, days after a tornado ripped the roof off while he, his son, and grandson were inside.

His wasn't the only home that needed rebuilding.

Most of the 35 homes the city considered "destroyed" were in Gardenview. In all, 139 Beavercreek residences were classified as having "major" damage or being "destroyed" by the Greene County Damage Assessment.

"It’s harder to believe, when you see it, that nobody died," said Beavercreek City Manager Pete Landrum. "It’s almost like, ‘Are you pulling my leg?’"

Landrum said Public Works crews responding late on May 26, 2019, arrived to Gardenview and couldn't get into the neighborhood because of the amount of debris on the roads. They returned to the city facility and attached snow plows to the front of their trucks to create a path into the neighborhood.

"It was unlike any other," Landrum said.

Wissman remembered joining his neighbors and walking out of the neighborhood. When he finally saw his house in the daylight, it was days later.

His garage was thrown about 100 yards - except for the 1975 Dodge Dart his son had been restoring.

One lucky 1975 Dodge Dart
Dale Wissman's Beavercreek home and garage were destroyed by the Memorial Day tornado of 2019, but this restore Dodge Dart was left untouched.

"I still can’t find my tools anywhere, but the car was in perfect condition," Wissman laughed.

The Dart now sits in the rebuilt garage, shiny as ever.

Businesses sidelined twice in 12 months

Inside Aqua-Tots Swim School on Lakeview Drive, there are pool toys on the floor marking six foot spaces. The lobby chairs where parents can watch swim lessons are spread at least six feet apart. School staff expect to be open June 1.

The coronavirus caused the school to close for the second time in the last 12 months after the tornado. In fact, it's been closed roughly half of that time.

The tornado lifted the roof of the strip mall housing Aqua-Tots, bursting pipes and blowing out windows. General Manager Brittany Haley said it took four months to reopen after the storm.

Aqua-Tots Swim School tornado damage
The Memorial Day 2019 tornado burst pipes and blew out windows at Beavercreek's Aqua-Tots Swim School, forcing the business to close for four months.

"Last time, with the tornado, we reopened and it was back to normal," said spokesperson Lindsay Thayer. "This time there's the challenges of making sure the facility is prepared, that everything is built as it should, according to Governor DeWine's guidelines."

WCPO interviewed Haley and Thayer as the Aqua-Tots staff was returning for retraining on those new guidelines.

"(The tornado) was one of the scariest and, I think, craziest things that our staff had been through," Haley said.

She arrived at 2:30 a.m. to find the lobby flooded, their computers ruined, debris in the pool. She said the building had to be almost entirely remodeled.

But, days before its second reopening, the staff were enthusiastic about getting back into the pool.

"If, in one year, we can get through a natural disaster and reopen well, and we get through a pandemic, I don't know what else we can't make it through," said Thayer.

Across North Fairfield Road, Mike's Carwash used the total destruction to rebuild even bigger. But it kept the business's doors closed for about nine months.

"The roof was in the neighbor's parking lot. We had debris just everywhere," said Mike's Carwash area director Will Reynolds. "All of our equipment was askew."

Beavercreek suffered massive damage from the tornado that hit the city.

After the devastation, Reynolds said the company invested millions into the location.

"We now have the most state-of-the-art car wash you can find in the Dayton area," he said.

Mike's will officially celebrate its reopening with a Free Wash Weekend on June 12-14, raising money for 4 Paws for Ability.

'I really miss the trees'

On the edge of the Gardenview neighborhood, Nancy Mountjoy has rebuilt almost everything that was damaged on her property.

"I feel like it's a brand new house," she said. "They had to put new siding on, new windows, new screens, new shutters."

The former elementary school teacher assistant has lived in Beavercreek for more than 60 years. She said a neighbor woke her up, yelling through her open window, to warn her about the storm.

"Someone yelled, 'Nancy, you need to go to the basement. A tornado's coming!'" she said.

She has a new garage, new front fence, new patio furniture and new carpet inside. But the thick canopy of trees in her backyard still looks like packs of toothpicks.

The city hauled out nearly 600 tractor trailers-worth of mulched natural debris from neighborhoods after the storm, according to City Manager Pete Landrum. He said that came out to 46,000 cubic yards of debris, which is about 150,00 cubic yards before it was chipped.

The city owns 16 dump trucks, but Landrum said there were between 50 and 60 in the city every day for a couple months after the tornado.

"We've got a long way to go, but it is all on the move," said Beavercreek Mayor Bob Stone. "It gives me hope that this neighborhood is going to recover quite well."

Help came from the Cincy area and it continues, just slowly

Help came from all over Ohio, with many municipalities from the Cincinnati area first to arrive.

The Miami Valley Long-Term Recovery Operations Group has coordinated much of the ongoing rebuilding and recovery effort in the Dayton area, including Beavercreek.

The group said it currently had 354 active disaster management cases, but a total of 840 cases. Those involved things like "repair/reconstruction, rental/deposit assistance, food assistance, utility assistance, and assistance with FEMA and other benefit access."

Since the storms, the group said it contributed $10 million to the recovery effort in the form of money, volunteer hours, food, shelter, and material.

About $1.5 million in grants for help remains available.

The group said the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed some of its volunteer efforts for rebuilding and repairing across the Miami Valley.

Beavercreek 2019 tornado damage
A map shows damage assessments in Beavercreek after the Memorial Day 2019 tornado

Beavercreek City Manager Pete Landrum said 34 municipalities sent public works trucks to help the city – and many stayed for two months. Trucks came from places like his former employer, Delhi Township.

Landrum served as township administrator for four years starting in 2012. He also previously served as assistant Butler County administrator.

"That's the whole mentality of the community," he said. "We're a wide region, but when you get to know people like I've gotten to the know the Cincinnati area, we're a tight-knit family."

Anyone who needs assistance or is interested in volunteering can get more information on the group's website.

Evan Millward is a weekend anchor and enterprise reporter for WCPO 9 News in Cincinnati. He grew up in Beavercreek and his family still lives there, only about a half mile from the tornado's path on Memorial Day 2019.