Monday, April 12, 1999

Community rallies to help

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        On a wooded lot on Kemperknoll Drive in Sycamore Township, 2-year-old Hannah Durr stands in the back yard, steadying herself by balancing between the furry backs of two huskies. A brisk breeze rustles through the trees overhead, and the dogs seem to smile.

Craig Durr and his two-year-old daughter Hannah offered their Sycamore Twp. home to victims of Friday's tornado. Cincinnati Enquirer/Michael E. Keating
| ZOOM |
        Just a mile away, homes lie gutted. People's lives are strewn for blocks. Photographs from a beach vacation. A tarot card. A battered pack age of 25th anniversary napkins. A muddied letter starting: “Dear Ed and Tina, Really enjoyed our stay ...”

        Craig and Dana Durr often walk their dogs through that neighborhood. They know people there, better than they know people on their own street.

        So it was without a second thought that Mr. Durr on Friday grabbed some black paint. On cardboard, he wrote: “We have electric, gas, hot water for anyone who needs it. Please don't hesitate to stop. Door is open.”

        “We just wanted to open our house to them,” said Mr. Durr, 30.

        Like Mr. Durr, hundreds of people have offered to help the victims of Friday's killer storm. Some people, like Mr. Durr, know the victims. Most do not.

        On Sunday, two days after a tornado tumbled through Montgomery, Blue Ash and other parts of the Tristate, strangers became family as the community rallied to help storm victims rebuild their homes and lives.

        “People worked all day long and wouldn't even give us their names,” said Julianne Stein, 48, of Cleveland, who organized cleanup efforts at her cousin's leveled home on Cornell Road. “People have been unbelievably good.”

High school cleanup
        At Sycamore High School, more than 200 parents and students gathered Sunday afternoon to start cleaning up the pockmarked athletic fields.

Sycamore High School students begin to clean up what is left of a dugout at the school's athletic complex. Cincinnati Enquirer/Craig Ruttle
| ZOOM |
        After lugging rakes, shovels, chain saws and garbage cans from home, they sat in the school's cafeteria at 2:15 p.m. for directions.

        “Whatever you see, pick it up,” Principal Lynn Kitchen instructed, before unleashing them on the wreckage outside.

        Students wanted to help salvage the flattened houses across the street. But school officials worried that a deluge of student volunteers would get in the way of relief crews.

        “We want to help the relief efforts; we do not want to hinder them,” Ms. Kitchen said.

        As students roamed the athletic fields with garbage bags, many grew pensive as they surveyed the damage.

        “Looks like a war zone,” said junior Jon Winstel, 16, of Blue Ash, gesturing across the street. Turning his attention back to the school, he added: “Our lacrosse field is shot. I don't even know where the goals are.”

        Junior Lauren Speece, 17, looked wistfully at a wooded area where splintered trees stabbed the blue sky. “We used these woods for biology class to get samples,” the Montgomery girl said. “Not anymore.”

        Another cleanup will be held today. Buses will pick up volunteers at St. Barnabas Church, 10345 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, starting at 10 a.m.

        Across the street, Denny Riedmiller, who heads Montgomery Woods' neighborhood association, talked about holding community meetings to organize volunteers.

        He looked over to the mangled woods that gave the neighborhood its names — 65 acres boasting rare birds and orchids that are on endangered species lists.

        “We'll need a lot of help to bring that back,” he said, as he cut short a sob.

Far-flung possessions'
        Miles from the ruin, some Tristate residents didn't have far to go before discovering a way they could help, too.

        Daryl Coffey of Kings Mills in Warren County found a Shell gasoline credit card belonging to Lee Cook, who died with his wife, Jacque, when the tornado stampeded over their Cornell Road home.

        “I guess I'm seven or eight miles away from their house,” he said.

        Frank Lasiewski found a magazine belonging to Mr. Cook — a September 1996 issue of the Journal for the American Waterworks Association. He discovered it Saturday on top of his roof in Maineville — 5 miles north of the Cooks' home.

        And a friend of the Cooks' son, Ryan, came across one of the Cooks' insurance statements as he helped another family clean up their house and yard Saturday.

        All said they would hang on to the items to figure out how they could return them.

  Friday's tornado carried the belongings of many victims for miles.
  Area residents who find such items can call Sycamore Presbyterian Church at 683-0254. Or drop them off at the church, 11800 Mason Road, between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. today and Tuesday and between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday.
  The church will try to match the items with their owners.
        At the corner of Valleystream and Lakewater drives in Montgomery, Tina Wesley, a member of the Montgomery Assembly of God offered a curbside breakfast menu of bagels, donuts and bottled water.

        Members had been busy cooking homemade vegetable soup, sloppy joes and other items at the Pfeiffer Road church to provide lunch and dinner, too.

        The roadside stand also offered dog food and treats, lubricating oil for chain saws and work gloves.

        More church members scampered around the street dispensing sandwiches and other items to volunteers and families.

        “We'll be out here helping at least through Thursday,” Ms. Wesley said, calling out to passers-by that food was available.

        “It's so emotional. Thank God our church didn't get hit so we're able to do this.”

        Jack Stewart of Hamilton didn't know anyone at the hard-hit Montgomery Woods neighborhood, but he felt compelled to offer his dump truck to help cart off debris.

        “I watched it on the news Saturday morning and decided they needed my help down there,” the 66-year-old retired construction worker said.

Susan Hatfield, right, greets her niece, Megan Liebert, 16, who lives nearby in Sycamore Twp. Cincinnati Enquirer/Michael E. Keating
| ZOOM |
Friends, family help
        On Marlette Drive, where the storm wrecked about a dozen homes, Kelly Perry leaned over and squashed his lunch leftovers neatly into a small wastebasket.

        Noticing the maimed homes and littered lawns around him, he smiled sheepishly. “It's all in the upbringing,” he said.

        The 43-year-old Vincennes, Ind., man has spent most of his time since Friday's storm at his cousin's crippled home, helping her clean up and figure out how to move on.

        Saturday, more than 30 of Susan Bochnovich's friends showed up to pitch in, her cousin reported.

        Sunday, with all of her salvageable belongings gone, she turned her attention to the future.

        She dispatched her daughter with some friends to the Gap Outlet in Erlanger, so she'd have clothes to return to school. Meanwhile, she and Mr. Perry waited for an engineer and insurance adjuster to arrive to decide whether her home should be condemned.

        Every few minutes, a neighbor, friend or stranger stopped by to offer encouragement or help. To each, she offered a broad smile and some friendly conversation before turning them away.

        “Right now, I just really want to keep my family intact and make sure they feel as secure as possible,” she said. “How does anyone help me do that?”

        Lucy May and Sheila McLaughlin contributed to this report.


Bulldozers first, then rebuilding
- Community rallies to help
Gawkers strip tornado victims of dignity
Sirens need to sound louder, longer, readers say
Tornado renews churches' faith
Scholarship fund created for college student who lost parents
Smith visitation today
Some businesses get back to work, others salvage what they can
Psychological counseling available to victims
Symptoms of trauma
Red Cross receives surplus of assistance
Red Cross closes shelters
How to give/get help
Road and school closings; curfews