Tornado destroyed Cloverdale church, houses

First Posted: 11/18/2013

CLOVERDALE — A member of the church long enough to remember when the building was new, Cathy Heitmeyer stood in disbelief at the rubble made of St. Barbara Catholic Church.

“Fifty years,” Heitmeyer managed, with tears welling in her eyes, when asked how long she’d been a member of the parish.

It was as if the church had taken the brunt of the storm in an attempt to ease the blow for everyone else, one man in town commented.

The storm destroyed the church and rectory, but it also flattened homes in the village and damaged other buildings Sunday night.

A team from the National Weather Service surveyed the damage Monday and classified that an EF-2 tornado had caused the damage. The report said the twister had a path length of eight miles and a path width of 440 yards. The tornado was on the ground for about eight minutes beginning at 4:51 p.m. and touchdown was estimated to have occurred about five miles northeast of Cloverdale before traveling into the community.

About half the village’s 60 structures sustained some kind of damage, village Mayor Judd Spencer said. No one was injured or killed in the storm.

The storm left the village of 167 people without power. Because the village uses private septic systems and wells, that also means it is without running water, Putnam County Office of Public Safety Assistant Director Anita Stechschulte said. Officials estimated it would be at least two days before crews could restore power to main lines and another four to five days before the infrastructure could be restored. Portable toilets were being set up in the village.

Spencer has been mayor for two years and is a member of St. Barbara.

“I guess God will never give you more than you can handle,” Spencer said.

Around town, shingles, glass, splintered trees and bricks littered the ground and higher up pieces of metal twisted around power lines hanging from downed utility poles. But by Monday morning, rolloff trash bins arrived and chain saw buzzing filled the air as residents, firefighters and other workers cleared roads and started cleaning up.

Residents were being asked to separate wood from metal debris, Stechschulte said.

About 5:15 p.m. Sunday the village experienced a literal calm before the storm, Spencer said. Then, in about 20 seconds the storm came in, did its damage and left. Two funnel clouds came from slightly different directions, residents told Spencer, and came together briefly.

A group gathered for a social occasion at the community center huddled in the basement, Stechschulte said. While the building was heavily damaged, no one there was injured. Red Cross opened, but then quickly closed, an emergency shelter Sunday night when it wasn’t needed. The Red Cross was helping with a mobile food operation at Oak Haven Residential Care. The site is not a shelter, because it does not have power, but food is available.

At the church, parishioners came with snacks and drinks for workers and helped pull relics from the rubble. One woman made the sign of the cross before snapping a few pictures with her phone.

Heitmeyer and parishioner Mary Renner viewed the rubble that had been their church. The church’s carillon, built in 2004, stood tall as the church was destroyed around it.

The tabernacle with the Host had been salvaged and secured at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Ottoville. The Rev. Jerry Schetter, who pastors both the Ottoville and Cloverdale churches, had taken the pieces there. The crucified Christ was off the cross and lay in pieces in the parish hall on a table. Someone used a backhoe as gingerly as possible to move away debris as others pulled out pieces that could be saved.

The congregation traces its roots to 1898. The church was built in 1958 to replace a smaller building. Renner was at a loss.

“It’s the only church I’ve ever known,” she said.

Toledo Catholic Diocese Bishop Leonard Blair visited the church early Monday, Schetter said. It’s too soon to know what will happen, but Schetter said he hopes the church will be rebuilt.

Heavy winds from storms Sunday caused spotty damage and power outages through the region. Most customers had their power restored Monday. About 1,400 AEP Ohio customers in Putnam County and 2,200 Paulding-Putnam Electric Cooperative customers in Paulding and Putnam counties remained without power Monday.

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