A year ago today, 19 tornadoes touched down in Ohio, destroying homes and businesses in rural and urban areas alike. The largest of those tornados passed through the City of Dayton and several neighboring communities. WYSO’s Jason Reynolds has been talking with people in some of the hardest-hit communities to see where they are today.
One of the first tornadoes touched down in the tiny city of Celina, about an hour north of Dayton. It was just after 10 p.m. when the wind started ripping roofs off of houses and throwing cars into the air. One of those cars landed on a house, killing the man inside.
After the storm passed, Celina was Governor Mike DeWine’s first stop. He came by helicopter to see the damage.
“It’s devastating when you see it from the air,” DeWine said. “And it’s devastating when you actually go out. Then, when you start talking to people who lost everything, you really start to understand what a tornado can do.”
Now, a year later, Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel says his community has bounced back.
“We have recovered very, very well,” Hazel says. “It just looks like all new housing out in that area. Businesses that were damaged, they got back up very, very quickly. I had school kids coming out and cleaning debris, which was amazing to me. So, I feel very proud of this community.”
While some towns like Celina have recovered quickly, other places have struggled. Some of the neighborhoods hit hardest were in Dayton and its suburbs. Those areas are more densely populated, which led to more property damage when the largest of the twisters tore through homes in Trotwood, Northridge, and Dayton.
Cathi Spaugy is the development director for Harrison Township, which took the brunt of that tornado. It was an EF4—a storm classified by winds of over 160 miles an hour and capable of causing devastating damage.
“We had roughly 1,800 buildings, both commercial and residential, that suffered some sort of damage. So, of all the jurisdictions that suffered damage from the tornado, we were hardest hit,” Spaugy says.
She estimates Harrison Township is about halfway through their cleanup, much of which has been demolition. 25 buildings were leveled at one apartment complex alone, and hundreds of residents were displaced.
Cleanup costs have been immense, too. It’s in the $3 to $4 million range, which is more than the township's annual budget. And that budget is going to be smaller this year.
“We gain our revenue in the township through property tax,” Spaugy says. “So, of course, we’ve lost property as a result of the storm, and also people were able to have their property tax evaluated because of the storm.”
But Spaugy still sees silver linings in all of this. Because of the tornado, she says the township is getting to know its residents better. And they’re also getting to know other government agencies and nonprofit organizations in the area—which means they can connect residents with the services they need most.
“We have folks that need help. Maybe they need food resources or basic social service resources. And now, because of the storm, I know where to send them,” she says.
The tornado that ripped through Harrison Township traveled 20 miles. It jumped the Great Miami River, and then plowed into Dayton itself. Officials say, of the 500 homes it damaged there, roughly 75 still need some sort of roof work. And that’s not all.
“Most people in the neighborhood hunkered down in their houses,” says Matt Tepper, President of the Old North Dayton Neighborhood Association. “Some of them may be still in houses that shouldn’t be occupied, but they’re not leaving. They’re set on staying there in their homes. And they’re trying to figure out how to get help.”
There are families in Old North Dayton that can tell you their stories of back-to-back bad luck. First, there was getting hit by the tornado. Now, it’s being laid off during the pandemic.
Still, Matt Tepper from the neighborhood association says things are getting better.
He says he was just out assessing Bellefontaine Street, a block of post-war houses that was ripped apart by the storm, and he marveled at what his community has accomplished so far.
“I was standing in the middle of the street, and they had made so much progress on that block. All the new roofs and the siding repairs made them look new,” Tepper says.
There are three homes on that block that Tepper says still look pretty bad and require some serious work. But he says that feels pretty manageable—especially considering what the street looked like this time last year.