From The Vault: Wind storm from Hurricane Ike hit Cincinnati with knockout punch

Posted at 4:30 AM, Sep 07, 2017
and last updated 2018-09-12 20:28:11-04

CINCINNATI - It was the day a hurricane hit Cincinnati.

A fierce, howling wind storm from Hurricane Ike threw a knockout punch at the Tri-State on Sept. 14, 2008, cutting power to nearly 90 percent of Duke Energy customers and paralyzing neighborhoods and communities for as long as seven or eight days.

WATCH: Most powerful gusts hit Butler, Warren counties.


Some 782,000 of Duke's 900,000 customers in the region lost power on that day because of felled trees and power lines. Restoring it would take an army of Duke technicians and lots of time. Some lucky customers came back online in 24 or 48 hours, but some had to wait and persevere for a week or more.

WATCH: Driveway Demolition Derby.


Wind gusts topped 70 mph and set a record of 74 mph at CVG, according to the National Weather Service. That was nearly the force of a Category 1 hurricane (sustained winds of 74-95 mph). Unofficially, higher wind gusts were recorded in West Chester (84 mph), Lebanon (78 mph) and Wilmington (77 mph). Sustained winds (averaged over a two-minute period) topped 50 mph across the area with the highest at 54 mph.

Five people were killed by falling trees, including a single mother of two sitting at her computer in her Mount Healthy home, a couple riding motorcycles in Hueston Woods State Park and two others in nearby Indiana.

When an 80-foot maple fell on a home in Franklin Township, one family member said "it sounded like a bomb exploded."

WATCH: Neighbor mourns Cindy Jones, Mount Healthy mother.


No one was prepared for what happened. One weather expert called it "a 100-year storm."

High winds had been been predicted as remnants of Ike pushed north from the Gulf of Mexico into the Ohio Valley, but when they arrived early on Sunday afternoon, they had combined with a cold front from the north and created the Perfect Storm.

"We have never seen anything like this. Never. We’re talking about 90 percent of our customers without power," Duke Energy spokesperson Kathy Meinke said.

WATCH: Blowin' in the wind.


Oddly, it didn't seem like a storm at all except for the loud sound of wind howling and trees rustling and cracking in the wind. It didn't even rain here - in fact, it was sunny at times. The Bengals game against the Tennessee Titans went on as scheduled at Paul Brown Stadium, though with food wrappers and cups swirling around the field. Not surprisingly, passes were hard to complete in the Bengals' 24-7 loss.

WATCH: Residents talk about living without power for several days.


But the force of sustained 50 mph winds beating on trees and power lines knocked down so many it took days for Duke to regroup. Duke had sent crews to areas ravaged by Ike and had to call them back, along with reinforcements.

Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune sharply criticized Duke for not communicating in the 24 hours after the storm. Residents were unhappy, too, at being both literally and figuratively kept in the dark. Duke didn't issue much information, and timetables about when power would be restored proved to be inaccurate, Portune said.

WATCH: Neighbors helping neighbors.


In some areas, power outages appeared to be random. One side of the street had power, the other didn't. One side of your house had power, the other didn't.

Left to fend for themselves, neighbors banded together, sharing what power they had - whether on the grid or from home generators. Some connected extension cords from one house to another and stocked food together in whosever refrigerator or freezer was working. Some residents, looking on the bright side, said the hardship brought neighbors closer together.

WATCH: Duke Energy workers feel threatened.


That's not to say people didn't get frustrated and mad. A man was arrested in Reading for allegedly threatening a Duke crew with an assault rifle that turned out to be an Airsoft gun. In court, the man apologized and said he was just joking.

The damage in Cincinnati wasn't New Orleans in 2005 or Houston in 2017 or Galveston, Texas, where Hurricane Ike did its worst damage in 2008 - and Tri-Staters were grateful for that. But it was especially hard on residents in rural areas in Warren, Butler and Clermont counties where houses were few and far between. They were last on Duke's priority list - crews reconnected heavily populated areas first.

"We're cooking on a Coleman stove. It's just like camping but in your house," a woman said. "It's pretty bad."

WATCH: Rural residents hit hard.


Around the Tri-State, schools, stores and businesses were closed for days - some all week. Some streets were unpassable, blocked by fallen trees and power lines. Drivers had to wait in long lines at gas stations - where they were open. Residents without power had to throw out meat and other perishables.

It took nearly a week for all the 100-plus Kroger stores in the area to reopen. When they did, there was a run on food, ice and hardware. In Butler County, Sheriff Richard Jones and his deputies manned the roads and gave bags of ice to passing motorists.

WATCH: Sheriff Jones' ice patrol.


For days, you could hear the whirring of power saws and wood chippers and the hammering of people repairing roofs and other damage. Kids off school helped pick up debris from their yards and neighbors'.

The wind storm cut a similar swath through Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky - mainly south from Indianapolis, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio and north from Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky. A week later, experts attended a previously scheduled conference entitled "Be Prepared, Ohio" and talked about what lessons they learned and how to prepare for the next big disaster.

WATCH: Making sure we're ready for the next disaster.


Two years later, Ohio’s insured losses from Ike were estimated at $1.255 billion, surpassing the 1974 Xenia/Cincinnati tornadoes as the costliest natural disaster in state history.

See other video and stories about Tri-State history in our "From The Vault" series.

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