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Tornadoes felled power lines, ruined houses, claimed only one life

Posted at 4:45 AM, May 28, 2019

A rapid-fire line of apparent tornadoes tore across Indiana and Ohio overnight, packed so closely together that one crossed the path carved by another. Scenes of destruction littered Greene, Mercer and Montgomery counties when the sun rose Tuesday morning; by the time it set, the complete scale of the damage was still unclear.

"It's a devastation," Beavercreek Township resident Susan Profeta said. "It's not even a disaster. It's a devastation for everyone in the area. It's a total loss for probably more than hundreds of people."

What was clear was this, Gov. Mike DeWine said: Ohio needed help. DeWine declared a state of emergency for the three affected counties, allowing them access to disaster relief funding and personnel from the Ohio Emergency Management Agency.

President Donald Trump tweeted his well-wishes late Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service confirmed some of the damage left behind had been caused by EF3 tornadoes.

One person, 81-year-old Melvin Dale Hannah, died when a tornado flung a parked car through the walls of his Celina home. Hundreds more were injured; others saw their homes reduced to splinters and even stripped to their foundations by the powerful storms.

The cities of Celina, Circleville and Trotwood — about 70, 76 and 10 miles from Dayton, respectively — were among the hardest-hit, but debris and fallen power lines littered the entire Miami Valley. Ohio Department of Transportation officials spent the early morning using a snowplow to clear parts of I-75.

PHOTO GALLERY: Aftermath of tornadoes that hit Dayton area

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Montgomery county officials later provided an update on storm recovery from Harrison Township.

"There's a lot more work to be done. The federal government will play a role in that," Portman said. "That's why I'm here today. To say 'thank you' to the first responders ... tell people who are affected that we're going to be there for them and be sure the federal government does everything it can."

WATCH: Sen. Portman and Montgomery County officials on storm damage

Sen. Rob Portman, county officials hold storm news conference

Although some of the heaviest hits were near Dayton, no one in the city was killed.

"I find that pretty miraculous," said Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne.

Payne credits people heeding early warnings about the storm.

Some 5 million people were without power early Tuesday in Ohio alone.

The response would require a "multi-day restoration effort," Dayton Power & Light said in an early morning tweet. At about 12:15 p.m. the company said 70,000 customers have been impacted, and 360 out-of-state crew members were coming to the area to assist.

The city of Dayton urged residents to conserve water after the storms cut power to water plants and pump stations, and issued a boil advisory for all Dayton and Montgomery County water customers. This does not impact jurisdictions with separate systems, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.

WATCH: Dayton, Ohio officials provide update on storm damage

Watch: Full press conference with Dayton, Ohio officials

Multiple schools in the area were closed or had delayed starts Tuesday.

The damage and the aftermath

Officials with the National Weather Service confirmed at least an EF3 tornado with winds up to 140 mph in Beavercreek in Greene County, Ohio, and in Trotwood in Montgomery County. The NWS cannot yet confirm if the same tornado touched down in both towns or whether they are two separate tornadoes. Two tornadoes were also confirmed in Pickaway County, and an EF3 hit Celina, Ohio.

The storm survey "is still ongoing" in other areas. The NWS tweeted Monday night that a "large and dangerous tornado" hit near Trotwood. Several apartment buildings were damaged or destroyed.

READ MORE: Breaking down the storms that produced tornadoes near Dayton

Just before midnight, not 40 minutes after that tornado cut through, the weather service tweeted that another one was traversing its path, churning up debris densely enough to be seen on radar.

In Brookville, west of Dayton, the storm tore roofs off schools, destroyed a barn and heavily damaged houses.

In Vandalia, about 10 miles directly north of Dayton, Francis Dutmers and his wife were headed for the basement and safety Monday night when the storm hit with "a very loud roar."

"I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands," said Dutmers, who said the winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with storm debris, and took down most of his trees. But he and his wife were not injured and the house is still livable, he said.

Tornado damage in Vandalia, Ohio.
Tornado damage in Vandalia, Ohio.

In Beavercreek, east of Dayton, there were hardly any homes without serious damage in the neighborhood near Shaw Elementary. A basketball hoop had been bent backward at a 90-degree angle.

Pat Freeze grabbed her husband and ran to a small interior bathroom just seconds before parts of their walls, roof and doors shattered. Something blew a hole through their brick garage wall and cracked their bedroom wall. Insulation was sucked out of the roof, making it "snow" throughout the house.

Freeze said the tornado didn't sound like a train as people often say.

"Just a huge wind, and then you could hear everything breaking all at the same time," she said. "You could hear glass breaking, things hitting the house."

In Indiana, at least 75 homes were damaged in Pendleton and the nearby community of Huntsville, said Madison County Emergency Management spokesman Todd Harmeson. No serious injuries were reported in the area or other parts of the state.

Madison County authorities said roads in Pendleton, about 35 miles northeast of Indianapolis, are blocked with trees, downed power lines and utility poles. Pendleton High School is open as a shelter.

The National Weather Service said a survey team will investigate damage in Madison County and possibly in Henry County. Another team may survey damage in Tippecanoe County.

How to help and get help

WCPO 9 On Your Side will host a phone bank from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday. Watch WCPO for the number to call to donate to the Cincinnati Dayton Regional Red Cross. The Red Cross is assisting victims by providing shelters in the area.

Visit to search for a missing loved one or to let friends and family members know you are safe.

The Blue Ash organization Matthew 25: Ministries is also responding to the Dayton area in the aftermath of the storms. The organization will provide personal care kits, household and cleaning products, generators and other supplies.

Matthew 25: Ministries accepts financial and product donations. Click here for information about how to donate.