Thursday, September 21, 2000

Tornado kills one in Xenia

By The Associated Press

        XENIA, Ohio — Authorities continued searching early Thursday for possible victims from a late-summer storm that resulted in one death and at least 100 injuries in this city, where buildings were damaged or destroyed, cars overturned and barns demolished.

        “We are going home by home to see if everybody is OK,” Mayor John Saraga said. “Ninety percent of our city is in good shape.”

[photo] Two men inspect damage to buildings caused by a deady windstorm Wednesday night.
(Associated Press photo)
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        XENIA, Ohio (AP) A tornado swept through this city that was devastated by a twister a generation ago, killing one person and injuring dozens of others as it heavily damaged buildings, overturned cars and downed power lines.

        Authorities searched through the night for other possible victims of the storm that hit around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

        ``We are going home by home to see if everybody is OK,'' Mayor John Saraga said.

        The storm confirmed as a tornado by the National Weather Service was a frightening reminder of a twister that struck the southwestern Ohio city in 1974, leaving 33 people dead and millions of dollars in damage. Authorities said the storm moved on a parallel path Wednesday but the damage, while significant, was far smaller.
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        ``This was a major tornado, but it's nowhere near the area the '74 tornado covered,'' said Charlie Leonard, assistant city manager.

        Still, at least 115 people were injured, 14 were admitted to hospitals. One woman was in critical condition and three people were in serious condition Thursday.

        The person who died, whose identity was not immediately released, was in a car that was crushed by a tree near the Greene County fairgrounds, Sheriff Jerry Erwin said.

        Ruby Godfrey was in the Dayton Avenue Baptist Church when she heard hail pound the roof, which was eventually torn off.
[photo] Cars and shopping carts were scattered around the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store by the storm
(Associated Press photo)
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        ``We're hitting the floor, getting under pews. You heard the roar. You saw the roof flying off and then it was gone,'' Godfrey said.

        Gov. Bob Taft issued an emergency declaration for Xenia, and he toured the area Thursday.

        Crews searched through the night for possible storm victims in the rubble of a grocery store that collapsed, though there were no reports of anyone missing. Nothing was found as of daybreak Thursday, but one more search was planned at the store and other buildings that were hit.

        All that remained of the Groceryland was a tangle of steel girders, drywall and insulation. But cans of food still could be seen stacked neatly on a shelf inside.

        Substantial damage also was reported at a Wal-Mart store where cars were overturned, utility lines fell and trees splintered. Windows were shattered and walls collapsed.

        ``There really was no warning,'' said employee Travis Waddle, 20. ``I saw the tiles come down and people running and everybody screaming.''

        He said some people suffered cuts and bruises, but he saw no major injuries inside the store.

        About 75 percent of Xenia remained without power at daybreak, the city manager said. Schools were closed in the city of nearly 25,000 people about 20 miles southeast of Dayton.

        ``I was tired of being in the dark and I wanted to know what was going on,'' said Robin Hunter, 44, who spent the night at a temporary shelter set up at a local elementary school.

        The tornado that swept through Xenia and southwest Ohio on April 3, 1974, was one of a series of storms over two days that killed more than 300 people in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. It was one of the worst outbreaks of tornadoes in the past 75 years.

        In central Ohio, a second tornado that hit about an hour after the Xenia storm damaged about 15 homes north of Columbus.

        Art Sidell, 74, of Xenia, was in a barn when the power went off.

        ``About the time I headed for the door, the roof went off. I just dove under a table,'' he said Thursday. ``After about 10 seconds it was over. I crawled out from under that table and there was debris everywhere. Not a scratch on me.''

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