2019 tornado memories vivid for many

By Kevin O’Boyle [email protected]

BROOKVILLE – “As difficult as this is, there are families that are suffering that don’t have the essentials of life. That we came through this without loss of life or critical injuries is the greatest blessing,” said Brookville Local Schools Superintendent Timothy Hopkins about the tornado outbreak that occurred in the Dayton area, including the Brookville community, on May 27, 2019 around 10 p.m.

Hopkins made those remarks four days after the event. Those words were profound then and sum up sentiments as the one-year anniversary approaches of that EF-4, which on the Fujita scale (F-Scale), or Fujita–Pearson scale (FPP scale), which measures the intensity of a tornado, is one from the top.

An EF-5 tornado is the most powerful. An EF-4 tornado can pack sustained winds of between 207 to 260 MPH.

The Terrace Park neighborhood in Brookville took a direct hit from what the National Weather Service office in Wilmington confirmed was an EF-4 tornado.

In addition to Brookville other Dayton area communities hit included West Milton, Vandalia, Dayton, Trotwood, and Beavercreek.

The Brookville Star asked city and area officials, as well as Star staff members to share their thoughts about that night, and the many tremendous efforts displayed by literally an army of volunteers to help the Brookville community not only clean-up but rebuild as well.

Doug Jerome, Brookville Police Chief, said, “First, as we approach the one-year anniversary of the 2019 Memorial Day tornado, it will be a day our community will never forget.

“Throughout my life, I’ve seen media coverage, pictures, and articles about tornadoes but never thought it would happen to us,” added Jerome. “Personally, it’s still unimaginable as I look back after returning from an amazing weekend at the campground and moving my parents to Brookville from Florida that our community would be devastated by a major tornado.

“Although our community has been faced with many challenges over the years, this was one of the biggest professional challenges of my career. I will forever be indebted to our community volunteers, professional colleagues, service organizations, churches, donors, school employees, businesses, city staff, elected officials, first responders, medical personnel, citizens, and media personnel which all came together as one in a time of crisis to clean up and rebuild our community. Lastly, I truly believe it’s because of the grace of God that no lives were lost during this devasting tornado.”

Star contributing writer remembers well the devastating Xenia tornado of 1974. She lives in Englewood and recalled how she was feeling when she first heard the news about the tornado a year ago.

“My friend, and co-worker, Marilyn McConahay, was visiting me for the evening, decided she had better stay until the storm passed, and we were watching the television weather warning,” she said. “Just as the meteorologist announced a funnel cloud was approaching the Brookville area, the Englewood sirens sounded.

“I scooped up my cat, and Marilyn and I headed for the bathroom in the center of the house just as the meteorologist switched from “funnel cloud” to “tornado,” meaning it was on the ground. We had already put our purses in there so we would have them handy. She turned on her weather app, and I turned on the transistor radio I keep there for just that purpose.

“Then two things scared me even more than the sirens. My cat, who hates being shut in the bathroom because it’s where I clip his toenails, had stopped beating on the door and was sitting quietly behind the toilet. And the television meteorologists had changed their tone. Normally, even when a tornado has touched down, they have a lot of air time to fill and the talk about the “hook” that signifies a funnel cloud and estimate the storm’s direction and speed, repeat endlessly the directions we have all heard since the 1974 Xenia tornado about how to take shelter, and describe the area covered by the warning even to mentioning the streets.

But now they were only calling out general areas and directions – “It touched down in western Brookville and is headed southeast—Clayton and Trotwood take cover. A funnel cloud is sighted near Phillipsburg and Laura—take cover. The Brookville tornado is in Trotwood and headed for Harrison Township. Take cover. People in Troy and Tipp City—take cover immediately.”

Dawson said she was feeling unsafe.

“The bathroom was seeming less safe by the minute,” she said. “As the warnings ended, we emerged. My neighborhood had escaped any damage and the power stayed on, but not until around noon the next day were we sure our friends were safe, and the Brookville Star building was untouched. Marilyn’s neighborhood in Tipp City was intact but without power.”

Ron Fletcher, Brookville’s Fire Chief, said he was thankful for the actions and efforts of his fellow city staff members, members of his department as well as the Community Emergency Response Team.

“I am personally grateful to the Mayor, Council, and City Manager for the support the Police Chief and I received during the emergency operations phase of the incident,” Fletcher said. “Our Unified Incident Command System worked beyond expectation.

“And I want to thank all of the CERT Team members and citizen volunteers who immediately came to our aid and were ready to do whatever was asked of them,” he added. “It became evident almost immediately that because of Brookville’s sense of community, our recovery process was days, and eventually weeks and months ahead of what we witnessed in other communities. The citizen volunteers get credit for getting Brookville cleaned up faster than anywhere else. It was an amazing thing to witness and be a part of.”

Sonja Keaton was just named Brookville’s City Manager a few short weeks prior to the tornado.

She said she was grateful for the many efforts of city staff and volunteers to aid the community.

“I would like to express my sincere thank you to Fire Chief Fletcher and Police Chief Jerome for monitoring the weather situation last Memorial Day,” said Letner. Through their quick insight and decision to activate the tornado sirens, this provided our citizens with critical lifesaving seconds to move to their safe space, which I am sure saved many lives.

“Thank you to both Chiefs for setting up the Command Center and EOC quickly,” he added. “Thank you to our neighboring communities who provided our Fire and Police Departments with mutual aid.

“Thank you to the Brookville Fire Department for responding to the subdivisions quickly to assess and turn off gas to the damaged homes and check on our residents.

“Thank you to the Brookville Police Department for controlling traffic, implementing a curfew, and patrolling the entrance into the Terrace Park subdivision following the tornado.

“Thank you to all CERT Members who volunteered their time during the week following the Memorial Day tornado. They worked tirelessly at manning the EOC and assisting our Police Department with patrolling Terrace Park; your dedication and hard work were greatly appreciated.

“Thank you to our Service Department who worked long untiring hours, including evenings and a weekend to assist our residents with their cleanup efforts and for cleaning up the Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was also damaged during the tornado.

“Thank you to our front office staff who manned the constant ringing phones following the tornado. Thank you to our Zoning Officer who worked alongside our residents and builders to repair and reconstruct homes that were damaged from the tornado.

Thank you goes out to the Montgomery County Common Pleas Court officials who sent inmates that are in their Secure Transitional Offender Program to assist with cleanup efforts and to the Montgomery County Engineer’s Department for sending personnel and equipment to assist our staff with removal of downed trees in Wolf Creek Street.

“Thank you to Rumpke for their quick response in delivering portable latrines, hand wash stations and dumpsters. My first call to Rumpke was shortly after 6 a.m. on the Tuesday morning following the tornado. Rumpke provided drivers during the days, evenings, and the weekend to remove filled dumpsters and drop off empty dumpsters.

“Thank you to the many businesses and cities who donated equipment, food, manpower and water to assist with our cleanup efforts and loss of water. Thank you goes out to the cities of Centerville and Union, as well as Clay and Perry Townships and the village of Lewisburg for assisting us with chipping.

“Thank you to Ritter Plumbing Company, Inc. for assisting our Brookville Fire Department with gas shut offs during the evening and early morning hours following the tornado. A big shout out to Ritter Plumbing Company, Inc. for setting up a tree debris drop-off site in Brookville for the City and residents to drop off tree debris following the tornado. This site allowed us to get the City cleaned up in an expeditious manner.

“Thank you goes out to our utility partners DPL and Miami Valley Lighting for their quick response in getting power and streetlights restored quickly.

“My biggest thank you goes out to the hundreds of volunteers and businesses that donated food, water and supplies and volunteered cleanup efforts throughout the city. We could not be where we are today without all the volunteers that showed up from near and far. The amount of outpouring from this community was awe-inspiring.

“Our residents are very resilient! Brookville has become a stronger community following the Memorial Day 2019 tornado. Brookville is a great community to live in and we are #Brookville Strong.”

Brookville Star contributing writer shared her thoughts and feelings about the tornado as well. She also added a remembrance of a tornado to touched down near her home when she was a child.

“It really was ‘a dark and stormy night,’ but not the kind you’d find in a “Peanuts” cartoon,” said McConahay. “I’d added a third word, “scary,” after earlier evening storm warnings had subsided.

I had been at my friend Kay Dawson’s house in Englewood, waiting out storms until it might be safe to go home to Tipp City.

“I had my weather radio, a portable radio, a flashlight and batteries in the bathroom, just in case things took a turn for the worse.

“Everything seemed to be calming down, but then I could hear voices rising from the television.

Tornadoes were popping up one after the other all over the area.

“I heard McCall Vrydaghs (WHIO-TV meteorologist) frantically calling out the names of cities where people should go to their safe places, then calling out the “all clear” for another while almost instantaneously calling out another location.

“Kay and I headed to the main bathroom where her cat, Toby, was sitting strangely still behind the commode. I had a moment to hope and pray my pets in Tipp City were okay, since a new funnel cloud had been identified just south of Troy. Before we could even take cover, Englewood was declared all clear.

“While that feeling of impending doom began to subside, images were being shown of Brookville High School without its roof. I was calm enough to forget my fears and worry about the people who were being hit by the monster storm. Relief came when the news reports said no one had been killed.

“For many, especially in Terrace Park, it was a night of tragic loss of homes and possessions.

Naturally, it all took me back to the night the small tornado hit our house when I was eight years old. Weather experts had referred to it as a “hedgehopper,” because it had touched down in Pleasant Hill, then remained aloft before dipping down to the ground again in Troy.

“It was late at night. Mom and I were upstairs reading when we heard debris slamming against the side of the house and we could feel the house shaking.

“As my big brother came flying out of his bedroom, his door slammed shut behind him and his two windows blew out. (We later discovered tiny slivers of glass embedded in his headboard and pillow where he had been asleep.) We all ran down the hall to my parents’ room, just as a window blew out there. Dad was in a deep sleep and when he heard us carrying on, he said gruffly, “What’s all this noise about?” It’s funny now; not so much that night.

“It took years for that terrible fear rising in the stomach whenever a thunderstorm approached to subside.

“For years, I hadn’t thought about that night when my kindergarten teacher down the street took me in for the remainder of the night and comforted me with a tale, telling me it had been “just God cleaning up and not to be scared.”

“I knew then that the people of Terrace Park will be feeling that way for a very long time.

Brookville Star contributor Doug Brown lives in Brookville. He remembers the night of May 27, 2019 vividly.

“May 27, 2019 will be a day the people of Brookville, Trotwood, Northridge, Old North Dayton, Riverside and Beavercreek will remember the rest of their lives,” he said.

“I remember sitting at my apartment watching things unfold. Knowing that the weather was going to be bad, I didn’t think it was going to be that bad.

“But I was switching back and forth on all of the local news stations seeing if they were all saying the same thing. All of the sudden the siren, in Golden Gate Park, goes off and I head to the bathroom and stayed there until it was over.

“I continued to watch as the tornado continued on its path of destruction. Little did I know how bad the tornado really was and how bad the destruction would be?

“Then I remember the next day, turning on TV and seeing all of the destruction. The high school having its roof torn off and the Terrace Park plat look like a war zone, and the total destruction all over the Miami Valley.

“Seeing Hara Arena destroyed really hit me hard, as I remember all of the great times I had there.

Let’s hope we never have another day like that.”

One note of community pride, in spite of the roof over Brookville High School being torn off, schools for the 2019-2020 academic year opened as scheduled on Aug. 15, 2019.

By Kevin O’Boyle [email protected]