CELINA — It felt like it was never going to end: Celina residents were caught off guard when an EF-3 tornado leveled several neighborhoods here late Monday evening, killing one, injuring seven and damaging at least 40 homes.
“It was terrifying, you could just feel it,” said Ashley Braun, who was taken by surprise when a tornado ripped apart her Fairground Road home late Monday night.
She and her husband, Joey, barely escaped the worst. The couple sought shelter in their home’s bathtub minutes before the tornado tore through. They are now leaning on friends and family as they recover.
“We have a lot of family and support. … We’re alive, that’s all that matters,” Ashley Braun said.
The sole confirmed casualty was Melvin Hanna, 82, who was killed when a parked car was blown into his house, Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said Tuesday.
“There’s areas that truly look like a war zone,” he added.
Seven others were injured, including three whose injuries were deemed serious, Hazel said.
The residential areas along Fairground Road and the Wheatland Acres and Bruns neighborhoods saw the most damage.
“Pretty much everyone was out moving around,” said Troy Knapke, another Fairground Road resident whose home was destroyed Monday. Knapke, like many of his neighbors, was getting ready for bed when the power went out. He and his wife rushed their daughter to the basement minutes before their home was leveled.
“The whole thing seemed to last about 10 seconds and it was done,” he recalled. “It was quick. (We) came up and there’s nothing there.”
A shelter was open at the Coldwater Eagles Club about five miles south of Celina for those displaced by the storm. Todd James, an American Red Cross spokesman, said the shelter will remain open “as long as it’s needed.”
“(We) got a lot of people who don’t have their home to go to tonight,” Hazel said.
Hazel had been tracking Monday’s storm but was still surprised by the extent of damage.
“It looked like just the lower tip was going to get near Celina,” Hazel recalled. “We didn’t think anything about it until we started to do the warnings through the Sheriff’s Office about a thunderstorm warning, and then it turned into a tornado warning. At that point, shortly thereafter the sirens went off and within a few minutes the power went out, which means it hit.”
Disaster response efforts are underway.
Many members of the community came out to help clear debris from the streets on Tuesday.
Governor Mike DeWine and several state representatives were in town too as part of a multi-county damage assessment tour.
“This is very, very tough on people,” DeWine said. “I wanted to come not only to see what was going on and see what we can do to help, but frankly just to be on the ground and express my concern to people.”
DeWine has declared a state of emergency in Mercer, Greene and Montgomery counties.
The Celina tornado was part of a swarm of tornadoes that was so tightly packed that one may have crossed the path carved by another as they tore across Indiana and Ohio, leaving 130 injured and ending the school year early for some students because of damage to buildings.
The storms were among 55 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down Monday across eight states stretching eastward from Idaho and Colorado. The past couple of weeks have seen unusually high tornado activity in the U.S., with no immediate end to the pattern in sight.
The winds peeled away roofs — leaving homes looking like giant dollhouses — knocked houses off their foundations, toppled trees, brought down power lines and churned up so much debris that it was visible on radar. Highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an Ohio interstate.
DAYTON AREA HIT
Some of the heaviest damage was reported just outside Dayton.
“I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands,” said Francis Dutmers, who with his wife headed for the basement of their home in Vandalia, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) outside Dayton, when the storm hit with a “very loud roar” Monday night. The winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with debris and took down most of his trees.
A tornado with winds up to 140 mph (225 kph) struck near Trotwood, Ohio, a community of about 24,500 people 8 miles (12 kilometers) outside Dayton. Several apartment buildings were damaged or destroyed, including one complex where the entire roof was torn away, and at least three dozen people were treated for cuts, bumps and bruises.
“If I didn’t move quick enough, what could have happened?” said Erica Bohannon of Trotwood, who hid in a closet with her son and their dog. She emerged to find herself looking at the sky. The roof was gone.
Just before midnight, about 40 minutes after that tornado cut through, the National Weather Service tweeted that another one was crossing its path.
Only a few minor injuries were reported in Dayton. Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne called that “pretty miraculous,” attributing it to people heeding early warnings. Sirens went off ahead of the storm.
Some of the people treated at the area’s Kettering Health Network hospitals were hurt during storm clean-up itself, while others may have waited before seeking treatment from storm injuries, said spokeswoman Elizabeth Long.
A RECORD DAY
Storm reports posted online by the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center showed that 14 suspected tornadoes touched down in Indiana, 12 in Colorado and nine in Ohio. Seven were reported in Iowa, five in Nebraska, four in Illinois and three in Minnesota, with one in Idaho.
Monday marked the record-tying 11th straight day with at least eight tornadoes in the U.S., said Patrick Marsh, a Storm Prediction Center meteorologist. The last such stretch was in 1980.
“We’re getting big counts on a lot of these days, and that is certainly unusual,” Marsh said.
To the west, thunderstorms dropped hail as large as tennis balls in Colorado, and dozens of drivers in Nebraska pulled off Interstate 80 with broken windshields.
Forecasters warned of the possibility of powerful thunderstorms during the Tuesday afternoon rush hour in the Kansas City area, as well as more bad weather in Ohio.
In Indiana, a twister touched down Monday evening in Pendleton, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Indianapolis. At least 75 homes were damaged there and in nearby Huntsville, said Madison County Emergency Management spokesman Todd Harmeson. No serious injuries were reported.
Pendleton residents were urged to stay in their homes Tuesday morning because of downed power lines and other dangers.
“People are getting antsy. I know they want to get outdoors, and I know they want to see what’s going on in the neighborhood,” Harmeson said. But he added: “We still have hazards out there.”
Outbreaks of 50 or more tornadoes are not uncommon, having happened 63 times in U.S. history, with three instances of more than 100 twisters, Marsh said. But Monday’s swarm was unusual because it happened over a particularly wide geographic area and came amid an especially active stretch, he said.
As for why it’s happening, Marsh said high pressure over the Southeast and an unusually cold trough over the Rockies are forcing warm, moist air into the central U.S., triggering repeated severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. And neither system is showing signs of moving, he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.