Saturday, April 10, 1999

Tornado tales

        Rescue worker Bets Locke's most useful tool Friday was in the kitchen.

        “God bless microwaves!” the energetic Blue Ash woman said with a smile.

        Ms. Locke and four other employees of the city's recreation department arrived at the Blue Ash Golf Course's Sandtrap Restaurant before 7 a.m. to make meals for rescue workers and tornado victims.

        They plowed through all the meat in the restaurant's freezer, keeping the microwave steadily humming as they thawed chicken, turkey, roast beef and other items.

        “Breakfast, done. Lunches — 400 and counting. We're already thinking about dinner,” said Ms. Locke. “We're using everything available here, and we're praying a lot.”

        The tree in Vera Bauer's front yard was little more than a sapling when she and her husband moved into their Kenwood Road home in Blue Ash 49 years ago.

        Friday, it snapped in half, bending over her yard like a performer bowing to his audience. The fierce winds, strangely and luckily, did not damage her home.

        “My husband's in the hospital from a stroke he had last week, and I don't want to bring him home, because this could give him a heart attack,” Mrs. Bauer said, gesturing to the broken tree.

        When neighbors Jim and Kathy Meisberger stopped by to check on their elderly neighbor, the trio marveled at the storm's capriciousness.

        “My plastic lawn furniture never moved, but the tree next to it, which is about 40 feet tall, uprooted,” said Mr. Meisberger, 37. “It's weird.”

        Nearby, landscapers using chainsaws made slow but steady progress at cleaning up the debris on lawns they just days ago manicured to Martha-Stewart perfection.

        Brenda Sklar just wanted to help.

        Like thousands of other residents, the 40-year-old Montgomery woman went without electricity Friday, but her home had no storm damage.

        “It is surreal,” said Ms. Sklar, who wore a towel over her head to keep dry when another storm swept through the morning skies. “Half my community is gone. It was here last night, and it's gone now. It's amazing.

        “The rest of the world just doesn't realize. I was over in Cheviot this morning and they were looking at me like I was nuts.”

        Ms. Sklar later visited rescue workers at a makeshift shelter at Sycamore Junior High School and offered her home as a temporary refuge for tornado victims.

        On Cornell Road, Julia Fleisch was getting ready for work about 5 a.m. and heard the “locomotive” sound roll through the neighborhood.

        Fearing glass could start flying, she grabbed the dog and her husband and headed for the basement.

        “We heard things hitting against the house,” Mrs. Fleisch said via telephone from her Cornell Road home. “It sounded like a bowling ball hitting the roof.”

        When the couple and their dog emerged from the basement, they heard warning sirens followed by police and fire sirens.

        When they got outside early Friday and surveyed the damage:

        • No windows were broken, but there were some tree limbs on the back of the house.

        • The hood of Mrs. Fleisch's car had a big dent and the grille was torn off.

        “I found it about 50 feet from where the car was parked,” she said. “It looked like a tree limb did it.”

        • She saw a trench in the back yard. At the end of it: A 4-inch-by 4-inch bedpost was stuck in the ground unscathed. The rest of the bed wasn't anywhere in sight.

        “We are very fortunate,” said Mrs. Fleisch, who was getting phone calls Friday from people she hadn't heard from in years. “How this passed over us, I don't know.”

        When Bruce McNutt heard the sirens blare at 4:30 a.m. Friday, he checked the news, saw the warning, got his wife and went to the basement.

        There, they watched the television and got a play-by-play account of what was happening outside of his Meadow Bluff Court home in Symmes Township.

        “They said we were going to have hail. It started hailing. Then they said we would hear a freight train sound and we heard it,” Mr. McNutt said. “I don't know why we have a house still standing.”

        The McNutts had only some minor roof damage and downed trees. They spent the day, with the help of neighbors, picking up debris.

        “It's nice to see everyone is coming together,” Mr. McNutt said. “But it's sad.”

        “It gives you a better perspective on what is really important in life.”

        Greg Watson went to work Friday the same way as always, driving along the tree-lined streets that wind through the suburban neighborhoods north of Cincinnati.

        Less than an hour later, on his way back through the same neighborhoods, Mr. Watson could barely recognize them.

        “Houses were ripped apart. Telephone poles were down. Trees were broken in half,” said Mr. Watson, a zone manager for The Enquirer's circulation department.

        “People were wandering around aimlessly,” he said. “They were in shock, I guess.”

        He and several co-workers made their way through the debris to Cornell Road in Montgomery. As they walked past several overturned cars, one of them heard a woman cry for help.

        They found her half-buried in rubble, covered in blood and missing one of her legs. “She was in bad shape, really banged up,” Mr. Watson said.

        While he searched for more victims, one of his friends stayed with the woman until paramedics arrived to take her to the hospital.

        By noon Friday, Barry Begley had sold all of the weather radios from the RadioShack in Symmes Township, off Fields Ertel Road.

        By 4:30 p.m., the electronics chain's district sales manager was driving back from a distribution center outside Columbus with 800 of the radios — two cases on the luggage rack, the rest filling his Ford Explorer to the roof.

        “I can't get another in the car,” Mr. Begley said via cellular phone.

        Mr. Begley, who is responsible for 29 RadioShack locations in Cincinnati, was restocking the radios after violent storms Friday morning created a run on them. He said several store managers were calling him by midday, saying their supply was either out or dwindling fast.

        And the demand wasn't just in northern Hamilton County, where the most damage was sustained. Mr. Begley said RadioShacks from Florence to Middletown were telling him they needed more.

        The weather radios are designed to tune into a National Weather Service broadcast on a frequency that regular radios can't pick up. Many of the buyers Friday morning said they wanted one because they hadn't heard emergency warning sirens. Other shoppers said they had been meaning to buy a weather radio, and the storm was a reminder.

        Mr. Begley said that by Friday evening, he hoped to get 80 radios in at least 10 stores, including those on Fields Ertel and in Northgate Mall.

        Friday's storms through Greater Cincinnati were strong enough to shake the ground and showed up on the University of Cincinnati's new computerized seismograph.

        Between 4:54 and 5:15 a.m., the seismograph detected an odd pattern of ground shaking. When Attila Kilinc, head of UC's geology department, showed up for work later Friday, he found strong readings and immediately called around to see if there had been an earthquake anywhere in the world. There had been none.

        The readings showed up only on the monitoring station on the UC campus. The next closest seismograph at Wright State University near Dayton, Ohio, did not pick up any similar readings, Mr. Kilinc said.

        While the height of the waves on his reading resemble the strength of a small earthquake, the pattern is much different and measurements such as the Richter scale don't apply, he said.

        Wind shears from the tornado system that moved through the region were so powerful that they likely caused the ground to shake, Mr. Kilinc said. The new monitoring system has been up and running since Feb. 5 at UC's geology lab. It can pick up movements from earthquakes that happen around the world, he said.


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