Saturday, April 10, 1999

Families flew from their beds

Rooms and lives turn upside down

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MONTGOMERY — The tornado struck while many slept, bursting into quiet bedrooms, tossing and flipping beds, and blowing away walls.

        It left people dazed, fumbling for clothes and eyeglasses in rooms turned top sy-turvy.

        “I was flying through the air and landed on top of my husband, and then the mattress landed on top of us,” said Sheila Page, standing shaken in the middle of Valley Stream Drive, dressed in a purple sweat suit given to her by a Red Cross worker. “If not for the mattress, we wouldn't be here at all. How we scrambled downstairs I don't know. ...”

        A telephone call awakened Jan and Larry White minutes before the tornado struck their Valley Stream Drive home. The call, from their son-in-law in Loveland warning them the storm was bearing down, was cut off when the roaring winds hit.

        “We ran downstairs and (Larry) said, "Get in the closet and close the door,'” Mrs. White said. “He went in the little bathroom. I was yelling to him. I was hearing all the glass breaking. ... We would have been blown out of the house, I know it.”

        When the tornado passed, the Whites emerged to a roofless house and a second floor in shambles. A grove of about 50, 80-foot-tall pine trees from their back yard now were tossed like Lincoln Logs around the front and side, covering an in-ground pool and demolishing a deck.

        “I feel like I'm in another person's world. I'm just amazed. I've seen this on TV when it happened to other people,” Mrs. White said as she and her family picked around the yard to collect anything salvageable in plastic garbage bags.

        They found bits of their 22 years in the house: a 1963 letter from Larry to Jan, a tube of lipstick, a water-soaked red teddy bear — all tossed about when the tornado uncapped boxed-up memories and stuffed drawers.

        Around the corner on Cornell Road across from Sycamore High School, Mary Uphus and her two sons made it into the basement as window glass began breaking around them.

        “I was holding onto a workbench and had my arm around my brother — just in complete fear,” said Greg Uphus, 19. “I could feel the house shaking and stuff blowing all over my skin.”

        He stood in his front yard later facing a house exposed to view when the winds swept away its facade. A telephone dangled by its cord from the second floor, twisting in the breeze.

        “See my bed?” he said, pointing to a mattress stripped of its sheets and stood on end against a wall. “That's my bed room, with the brick wall on it.”

        Al Roberts, the Bengals' offensive line coach, remembers awakening to a warm, whistling wind filling his bedroom.

        “It lifted us up out of bed. I said, "Father.' Then we fell and the mattress was on top of us and I felt protected,” he said. “I came out (of the bedroom) to get some clothes and saw there wasn't a house to get clothes from.”

        Cincinnati Police Officer Kevin Brown, 35, left for work Thursday night with his bike officer uniform and pickup truck.

        By Friday morning, a closet was about the only thing left standing in his Cornell Road house, next door to where two people died. The cars in the garage were smashed, the sofa on the front lawn. But his family had made it to safety in the basement.

        Chris Hoffman, two doors from Officer Brown, also made it out of the house before the tornado hit. He left for work at ForTec Medical in Forest Park about 4:30 a.m., just after calming his son from a nightmare.

        Within the hour, voice mail at work alerted him that his house was nearly leveled.

        Mr. Hoffman, 27, had moved back in with his parents after a divorce. His parents, Jim and Mary Ann Hoffman, were inside with his two boys, ages 6 and 4.

        He was numbed thinking about what his family went through to survive. His mother's bathrobe had caught in the basement door, and they tumbled down the stairs but made it without injuries.

        Driving back to the street he grew up on, he thought everything would be gone.

        “This is better than what I thought,” he said, staring at the shell of his house. “Just lots of memories here.”

        Mr. Hoffman graduated from Sycamore High School across the street. He remembers building treehouses in the now-ravaged woods and playing ball in a field now strewn with pieces of people's lives.

        A wall lying in his back yard belonged to one of his neighbors.

        “My room in the corner is gone,” he said. “My boys are OK. That's what matters.”


Hope emerges from the rubble
Sirens worked, but some slept through
- Families flew from their beds
Bengals coach: 'God's hand on me'
Driver got upside-down trip on freeway median
Photographer encounters death, devastation
House is a cheap price to pay for life
Community safe, serene and vulnerable
In Addyston and Ripley County, some feel blessed just to be alive
Survivors eager to swap stories
Two died in field; two died on roads
Adjusters quick to arrive at disaster
To file a claim
Dealing with storm aftermath
Don't rush repairs after storm
Tips to picking a contractor
Kids need help to overcome grief, fears
Talking to kids
Phones, power out until Sunday
Rescue team did tough job
Storm could spur support for tax levy
Storms' memories linger after damage is repaired
Mobilization was instant
Tornado tales
TV/radio stations had reason to boast
Volunteers grab chain saws, mops as workers untangle wires
At least 7 businesses destroyed
911 calls reveal confusion, fear