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'World War III': How fire chief described tornado damage in Harrison Township, Ohio

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Posted at 1:47 PM, May 28, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-28 14:26:19-04

HARRISON TOWNSHIP, Ohio — “World War III.”

That’s how the Fire Chief Mark Lynch of Harrison Township, north of Dayton, described the devastation from Monday night’s tornado.

At the same time, Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck called it a miracle that no deaths or serious injuries had been reported as of Tuesday morning.

“The great thing about everything that has happened so far, we have not had any serious injuries or fatalities,” Streck said. “We obviously have rescue crews still out searching buildings, but as of right now that is good news.”

But Streck also said there was "no end in sight" to when residents would be able to return to their homes.

You didn’t have to go further that the North Plaza shopping center to see the incredible damage. Some stores were leveled. What was left of the Family Dollar appeared to be collapsing, a corner pillar lifted off its footing by the fierce wind, with everything inside turned into rubble.

A gentleman’s club next door was demolished. A fire alarm was still sounding.

Fire Chief Lynch said local rescue teams, joined by crews from Cincinnati and Columbus, were going door to door searching for victims.

"We’ve already done a complete primary search last night. We’re looking to do the secondary search right now. We’re hoping to wind that up by the end of the day,” he said.

Lynch said he’s never see anything like this. He couldn’t imagine how long it might take to rebuild.

“We have over 1,500 businesses here in the township … and a lot of it got devastated last night. So it’s going to be a long time coming back,” Lynch said.

For now, Lynch said the county engineer was already assessing the damage to buildings, making sure they're safe before people return.

"They’ve got several engineers on staff. They’ll take a look at all the buildings that were damaged,” Lynch said.

Sen. Rob Portman was also there already surveying the damage. Portman said he had been in touch with the Ohio Department of Public Safety to get an assessment done as soon as possible to help get federal disaster funding.

Portman said the timing of the tornado might have saved lives.

"When you look at the damage in this neighborhood and four or five other neighborhoods in the Dayton area, it’s a miracle no one was killed ... Thank goodness it was 11 o'clock at night, not 11 o'clock this morning,” Portman said.

Portman said he was impressed by community members helping each other.

"This community came together. I heard a lot of stories this morning about neighbor helping neighbor ... That’s obviously something that we love about our state," Portman said.

About 20,000 people in the township were still without power. Officials were asking people to stay home, check on their neighbors and report anyone missing.