Saturday, April 10, 1999

In Addyston and Ripley County, some feel blessed just to be alive

The Cincinnati Enquirer

What's left of the Hawkins' home on Main Street in Addyston.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        As the walls of their homes and barns crashed in around them, giving way under the raging force of an early Friday tornado, families from western Hamilton County to Ripley County, Ind., found they could lean on their faith.

        There were no reported serious injuries or deaths west of Cincinnati Friday afternoon, and emergency management officials were convinced everyone had escaped with their lives.

        “I just thank God because if it wasn't for Him, we wouldn't have walked out of here,” said Peggy Hawkins, whose home at 305 Main St., Addyston, was blown to bits as she and her family slept inside.

        Her husband, Anthony Hawkins, dug their 15-year-old daughter Brandeix Hawkins out from under a section of shingles and pink aluminum siding. Their son Johnny Strong, 19, emerged from his basement bedroom unscathed.

"Everyone got out'
        They surveyed the wreckage of their material lives, scattered in a wide circle around the foundation and a single standing wall of their home, hugged and called Pastor Bruce Burns of Phillips Chapel CME. He was on the scene by 5 a.m.

        “The structure can be replaced. It hurts to feel that you've lost everything you own — but everyone got out,” he said, looking around. “God can do destruction. But he can do salvation as well, in saving these lives.”

        In rural Ripley County, families whose homes and livelihoods were damaged drew strength from helping hands.

        A tornado ripped an estimated 8-mile path of destruction through homes, crops and trees from the Jefferson Proving Ground to Dillsboro, just over the Dearborn County line.

        Terry and Maureen Sheets were startled awake at 4 a.m. EST by the death knell of their 15-month-old house.

        “We could hear all kinds of crumbling and creaking and cracking and groaning,” Mr. Sheets said. “At first I thought it was just the porch, but it's a total loss.”

        As the tornado passed in a flash, the couple's thoughts turned to the Welsh Corgi dogs, miniature cattle and halflinger horses they breed. Mr. Sheets looked through a window and, as lightning flashed, he could see the wreckage of their barns.

        Two horses, one of them pregnant, may have to be put down. Mrs. Sheets cried for joy and hugged one of the dogs, Finnegan, when she found him under a collapsed garage wall — but sobbed with the knowledge that another remained lost.

        Neighbors stopped by Friday afternoon with food and promises of a chili dinner at one of the only homes with electricity.

Helping each other
        Scores gathered at Benham United Methodist Church, where an emergency shelter opened just after 4 a.m. EST.

        People from miles around fetched trays of food and pots of coffee. They drove from house to house, following the tornado's path, to round up refugees.

        “That's pretty normal around here,” said Pastor John Adams. “People help each other out.”

        Donetta and Jim Benham, who share their last name with their community, were unharm ed as the wind and rain demolished three 100-year-old barns and four 25-year-old grain bins at their 1,200-acre farm.

        “You can hold your breath longer than it took to do this,” Mr. Benham said. “Some things my father built are gone — and he passed away so they meant a lot.”

        But as car after car pulled up and neighbors offered to help, his anger melted. Although he is a tornado spotter, he had no chance to see the twister roar directly overhead.

        “I know it sounds terrible, but if I had to put up with it, I'd like to have seen it,” Mr. Benham said. “It's got some beauty and grace to it.”


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
After-prom plans in the works