Sunday, April 11, 1999

Coping with the storm

Road closures

       The following roads are closed because of tornado cleanup efforts:

       •US 27 from Interstate 275 to Mason Road.

       •Kemper Road from Weller to Snider roads.

       •Snider Road from Kemper to Cornell roads.

       •Cornell Road from US 22 to Montgomery.

       Access to all subdivisions, shopping plazas and businesses within those closed roads is restricted to residents, emergency crews and contractors.


       Curfews remain in effect from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. in the tornado damaged areas of Blue Ash, Montgomery, Sycamore Township and Symmes Township. Montgomery also has extended its curfew through Wednesday. Other communities are expected to do the same today. Curfew violators will be arrested.

School closings

       Sycamore High School will be closed on Monday. Officials are still deciding whether to open other schools in district.

One good deed

       Dr. Mark Michael left his damaged house Friday to tend to some allergy patients. When he came home, somebody had repaired holes the tornado had torn through the roof of his screened porch. Somebody he doesn't even know.

       ''It was really, really a very nice touch,'' the doctor said Saturday. ''You don't know how much these people touch others' lives until you are in the problem. I thank the Lord for his protection and for these people.

       ''I just want the firemen and the police and everybody in Symmes Township to know. They were very good. I mean, it makes it easier.''

Pet update

       A squirrel was the only known animal casualty.

       "He was trapped under a tree,'' said Andy Mahlman of the Hamilton County SPCA. ''He was alive when we got him out, but he had to be put to sleep. He was hurt really badly.''

       Five dogs and five cats rescued from damaged homes were being kept at the shelter until their owners found places to live. Shelter workers were involved in rescues of another six pets, mostly cats, he said. All those were returned to their owners.

12-year-old hero

       When the storm hit his house on Valley Stream Drive, Robert Arshonsky knew he had to help get his sister, Susie, 15, who was trapped under parts of the roof and walls.

       Then he ran to the yard, where his dad, Steven, and his stepmother, Laurie, were lying. They had been blown from the house. He knew he needed more help, so he flagged down an ambulance -- a key move, his family would learn later when the stepmother was diagnosed with a punctured lung.

       ''She was badly hurt,'' said Robert's stepfather, David Burridge. ''He knew she needed help. He got blankets for them too. Those people never would've found them if he hadn't run out there and told them where she and his dad were lying.''

       The adults remained in Jewish Hospital Kenwood on Saturday. Robert's father was recovering from a chipped hip and lots of cuts. Robert ended up back at the hospital, too. More glass had to be removed from his feet.

       Robert just turned 12.

       ''The people at the hospital really helped, too, and made me feel better. The local heroes, I think there were many of them. I think I count myself as one, but there were many heroes who were going around helping people.''

Plenty of volunteers

       Rescue coordinators had so much help they had to turn some away.

       ''In a way, it's good there are so many volunteers, but it's frustrating because we want to help, too, and nobody needs us,'' said Susie Mueller, 18, of Montgomery, who brought a group of friends to volunteer. ''If nothing else, at least we can pray.''

Emergency shelter keeps busy

       The evacuees were long gone, but the makeshift shelter at Sycamore Junior High School still was hopping Saturday.

       Dozens of volunteers started as early as 7 a.m. to make breakfasts, lunches and dinners to deliver to emergency workers and storm victims in Blue Ash, Montgomery and other affected areas.

       ''We feed 1,500 students every day, and I've never seen this much food in one day in here,'' said Barb DeMar, who has worked at the school's cafeteria for 18 years and helped coordinate volunteer efforts there Saturday.

       Rescue coordinators had made no telephone calls soliciting food donations, Ms. DeMar said. Yet dozens of Tristate businesses dropped off hundreds of pounds of food and beverages Saturday. Volunteers stored the donated goods in teachers' lounges, classrooms, hallways -- anywhere there was room.

       ''We had pizzas in here stacked up to the ceilings yesterday,'' Ms. DeMar said. ''A disaster like this has never happened in this area before, so everybody is willing to help out.''

Photo no worse for the wear

       As Mark Baughman surveyed the storm damage in a wooded area of his family's Clinton County farm, something on the ground caught his eye.

       ''I picked it up and saw it was a photo of a Sycamore boys' basketball team -- and that's about 30 or 35 miles away from here,'' the Clarksville man said. ''The weird thing is that it's in pretty good shape. It's only got a couple tears on it.''

Planning a chainsaw party

       As he rounded the last curve in the long driveway of the home he had just purchased and was taking possession of Friday morning, John Redmon was stunned. He had no idea the Dillsboro, Ind., house had been hit by a tornado. The scenic pond was littered with pieces of once 60-foot pines. A huge shade tree, uprooted, blocked the front door.

       When his wife, Kathy, saw the damage, ''she just sat down here on the pond bank and cried,'' he said.

       Saturday afternoon, Mr. Redmon, who works at Bushelman Construction Co. in Sharonville and is a part-time rodeo roper, straddled uprooted trees instead of the horses he had hoped to bring to his new home.

       ''It was just gorgeous down here before the storm hit,'' he said, bracing for the cleanup. ''I've got some friends who are going to come down and we'll just have a big chainsaw party.''

        Nature preserve a childhood playground

       The tornado wiped out a sizeable chunk of Ruth Sies' childhood memories. The Johnson Nature Preserve, across from her house on Deerfield Road in Montgomery, used to be part of her parents' orchard and potato farm. She and her sister, Mary Baldwin, spent many a day in the tree-filled grove. They know exactly where to step to avoid the swamp and where the special marsh marigolds are probably blooming underneath the rubble.

       Mrs. Sies had been so happy that she could live across the street from the property for the last 45 years and know that it was still maintained as a peaceful area with no development. Now that most of the beech trees have been leveled, she is afraid it will be all too easy for the preserve to give way to condos or townhouses.

       ''It used to look like a beautiful preserve,'' she said Saturday afternoon. ''Even after the storm was over, we could stand here and hear trees cracking. It was awful.''

       The wind also knocked down some of the pear trees planted when her 75-year-old brother was born.

       The damage offered one hope. That maybe now she and Mary will be able to find the Calumet baking powder tins full of marbles they buried in the preserve years ago.

       ''We buried them, but never found them again,'' Mrs. Sies said. ''Maybe they'll be dug up now.''

Praise for the police

       Police officers and firefighters showed up from everywhere to volunteer. But keeping track of them wasn't easy.

       ''The lack of a good communication system is such a big issue,'' said Michael W. Allen, Blue Ash police chief. ''We've got law enforcement from all over the place out here helping us, and we've got instances where we've got officers out there and we can't even tell if they need a bathroom break. It's a mess.''

       The situation called for creativity.

       Cincinnati Police Division officers rode through part of Montgomery on horseback, the horses more easily able to maneuver around the dozens of utility trucks and growing piles of chopped-up trees.

       To discourage rubberneckers on Interstate 75, police set up a blinking sign that read: NO STOPPING!!!!! By Order of Police.

       ''The response from departments throughout this whole area has just been tremendous,'' Chief Allen said. ''The chief of Deer Park (Mike Berens) showed up here in uniform today, asking if he could at least go direct traffic somewhere.

       ''No department could handle something like this alone. This just transcends any boundaries.''

Starting over

       There's a Boy Scout cap under the pieces of drywall and roof and splintered wood, but Athula Ekanayake can't find it. He's still searching for his 9-year-old son's cap, but the walls of the second-floor bedroom are caved in. There is no roof. A few scattered books and a broken bookshelf are all that remain of their home in Pemmican Run subdivision near Harper's Point.

       The Scout cap may soothe the young boy, who woke up Friday night with nightmares of that morning's tragedy.

       A bottle of Victoria's Secrets lotion, a Seventeen magazine and a GRE practice book are scattered on the floor of Mr. Ekanayake's daughter's room. And that's it. The walls and ceiling are gone. All of the furniture and belongings salvageable from the Ekanayake's house fit in a small family room on the first floor. The house they called home for seven years is totaled.

       But they plan to rebuild on the same spot.

        ''It's like the base is gone underneath you,'' he said. ''It takes a little while to get it back.'



Pinpointing the damage in the Tristate
Homeowners sort out emotions, scattered memories
Where to donate, where to get help
Orphaned dog has broken pelvis, heart
Devoted pair died together
'When God calls, we must go'
Sirens not designed to penetrate buildings
Did you hear the sirens?
New home, owners spared
Utility crews, municipal workers out in force
Volunteers offer goods, hands, time
Mother Nature's worst brings out the best in human nature
Church members shed tears, give thanks
Hoosiers pitch in to help neighbors
Insurance adjusters bring checks, reassuring words
Warren County took blow, too
One year later, Alabama tornado victims still rebuilding
- Coping with the storm
Coping with the storm: Returning to your home