Thursday, September 28, 2000

Memories gone with the wind

Cleanup goes on, but some things lost forever

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        XENIA — Dreama Stallard had lived in the house for all but two years of her life. She buried pennies in the yard as a child. She kept a flower garden right in front. She watched a Chinese elm branch out and grow tall in the front yard.

        “Look at it,” said Ms. Stallard, 44. She stood in the front yard Wednesday. Outside walls were missing, exposing the kitchen and living room. The Chinese elm had been splintered, truncated. The yard was littered with playing cards, pieces of insulation.

[photo] In the exposed rooms of their Xenia home, Glen Stallard sits and his daughter Dreama stands amid the rubble.
(Michael Snyder photos)
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        Last week, the home on June Drive she and her parents, Glen and Hazel Stallard, had lived in since September 1958 became one of about 50 in this city that were destroyed by the tornado that struck just before nightfall on Sept. 20.

        The tornado destroyed churches, skipped across an orchard, took out a pocket of homes on June Drive and slammed into the Greene County Fairgrounds, killing one man. It wiped out some businesses on North Detroit Street before rearranging houses in the Summer Brooke subdivision.

        A week later, people like Ms. Stallard and her parents in this city of 25,000 count blessings and relive a lifetime of memories.

        “They're going to tear the rest of this down,” said Ms. Stallard. “I love this place. I used to climb up on the roof and jump off. When this elm was real little, my brother threw a football at it and it split. See the way it grew? This is what I remember.”

Streets cleared
        A week later and the streets have been cleared of downed trees and wires. Power has been restored. Debris from businesses blown apart along North Detroit has been bulldozed into piles. Bright blue tarp covers the gaping wounds in the roofs of homes. Neighbors and families have taken in those suddenly dispossessed.

        More than 300 structures were damaged. About 100 homes were made uninhabitable, said Ken Johnson, Xenia human resources director. “Some will be demolished, some can be repaired,” said Mr. Johnson.

        Fourteen businesses were heavily damaged, and about half of those were leveled by the tornado. The tornado in Xenia and in central Ohio counties caused about $33 million in insured losses, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute.

        By Friday afternoon, officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived in the city. They set up a toll-free application phone number for those who suffered tornado damage: (800) 462-9029, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week.

        “Seeing this breaks my heart,” FEMA Director James Lee Witt said Wednesday after touring some of the affected areas. “I'm thankful no more lives were lost.”

[photo] In a neighbor's yard, Charles Carraher packs up his home's last salvageable items.
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        FEMA officials said assistance can be offered to individuals and businesses whose losses were not covered by insurance. The request for federal help was made Monday by Gov. Bob Taft, and President Clinton signed a major disaster declaration Tuesday, designating Greene County eligible for federal aid.

"Not again'
        The city has tapped two former city managers — Robert Stewart and David Spahr — as ombudsmen, helping residents navigate their way through the myriad of agencies offering assistance. David Henry, the city's law director, rounded up 17 private attorneys to help people figure out insurance policies.

        When the tornado struck a week ago, Mr. Stewart said to himself, “Not again.”

        He was the city manager on April 3, 1974, when a chunk of the city disappeared as a tornado swept through the Arrowhead subdivision and then barged ahead and ripped through downtown. That twister — part of a killer storm system that swept across the country that April day — killed 33 people in Xenia.

        Mr. Stewart sat in his City Hall office that day and saw the tornado coming.

        “This is a nice town,” Mr. Stewart said Wednesday as he sat in the restored 19th century Xenia Station taking phone calls from people with questions about where to turn for help. He has said living through a tornado is about surviving, picking up the pieces and rebuilding.

        He will be helping people do that the rest of the week.

        “This is a place people can come to if they don't know the answers,” said Mr. Stewart.

Pulling together
        City Manager Jim Percival said he has been pleased with the way the city, state and federal government has responded.

        “People are tired, but the mood is positive and upbeat,” said Mr. Percival in the parking lot of West Park Square, where a Chinese restaurant lay in ruins.

        “People are helping each other, people are pulling together and making sure their friends and neighbors are all right. That's what makes this a tremendous community.”

        But residents have been unable to escape the pain.

        Nelson Grimm Jr. stared at the concrete slab Wednesday that marked where his home once stood. A week ago, his home on June Drive imploded. He had lived in it 27 years. Now it sits in pieces at a landfill.

        “It can be replaced,” said Mr. Grimm. “The house, the cars, the equipment can all be replaced. All of it. Everybody is alive, that's the main thing. I'm happy for that anyway.”

        Across town, in the Summer Brooke subdivision, a community of upscale homes, Charles Carraher was back at what was left of his home.

        “We're going to rebuild,” said Mr. Carraher, whose hands were coated with white dust and his fingers scraped from having dug through the debris searching for family heirlooms.

        About 60 inmates from five correctional facilities in the state arrived in a green school bus to help with the cleanup. One inmate approached Mr. Carraher and handed him a family snapshot he'd found in the basement.

        “Thank you,” said Mr. Carraher.

        “They did a good job. They're hard workers.”

Rebuild or take money
        Glen Stallard, 75, sat in his living room without walls. A quarter-century ago, he stood in his yard and watched the tornado sweep out of the northwest before taking a dogleg away from his neighborhood.

        “I have two options, rebuild or take the money,” said Mr. Stallard. “I own the lot. I ain't decided. I don't know. I might go somewhere where it's quiet.”

        “It's hard to give this up,” said Dreama, his daughter. “Look at what we lost.”

        “Hey, we're alive,” said her father.

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