Tornadic storms hit Darke County, victims talk about experience

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Storm damage at Reeser's residence on Fox Road. (Submitted photo)

DARKE COUNTY – As most people know, Darke County was recently hit hard in two recent storms, involving tornadic and/or high-wind activity; the first one in March and the second in May.

In the first storm, many properties along its path were affected by its fury and even left some people homeless. Fortunately, no deaths were recorded.

Dan and Linda Reeser’s property on Fox Road near Union City, Ohio, was one area that saw destruction.

In one of their postings on Facebook, they penned: “Family and friends from near and far came out to help today. We once again praise the Lord for keeping our loved ones safe last night.”

They indicated that they have been cleaning up the mess and tearing down the house for the last nine weeks.

“We lost our home and three buildings, one of which was our machine shop we ran since 1985 on Fox Road,” Dan said. “We are now getting the site ready for a home to be built. We just signed the deal with Derrick Robertson from Benanzer Custom Homes. We are only rebuilding one building for our storage and our property. This tornado has officially retired us from the machine shop business. We’re old enough now anyway.”

In that first storm, the Reesers also lost both of their vehicles, a motor home and a closed race car trailer and reportedly have replaced their vehicles and the trailer. “In the one garage. I kept our race cars. They are very heavily damaged. They are being stored at my sister-in-laws for now,” he noted.

In the meantime, they are living in a mobile home on their property until their new home is complete.

But, wouldn’t they know it? The second storm that hit the county also targeted the Reesers once more.

Photo of some of the damage at Reeser’s residence following the storm. (Submitted photo)

“We had gone into town for safety. We did not want to be in the trailer during another bad storm,” Reeser said. “We have Ohio signs in town. The wind blew an enclosed trailer into the van we just purchased for Linda. The tongue of the trailer pushed a hole through her door on the van.”

Cynthia Downey, who lives at 7917 State Route 121 north of Greenville with her fiance, Doug Shepherd, has been working hard to get her property back in shape.

“I had come home from work, got a couple of things done, showered and was kicking back for the night,” she recalled. “I had been scrolling Facebook and playing games on my laptop when the torrential downpours hit. Then came silence. I had gotten up to go to the basement but only made it to the window when the tornado hit. It was deafening; sounded like a million bombs going off. It felt like something was sucking the air from around you.”

“Everything was pitch black. I froze in place, scared to death and couldn’t breathe. We were very lucky that the window I was in front of didn’t break,” she went on to say. “After a few minutes, I looked out the window and something was amiss but I couldn’t quite put my mind around what had happened. What was I seeing or not seeing? It was still raining pretty good and hard to see.”

She said she did go outside to see and noticed something different in the tree line.

“I saw that some of them had been snapped off or uprooted…one of the bases was about 18 feet across. One tree was on the house,” Downey said. “I saw someone pull into the front area so I headed toward the drive. That’s when I saw that the wood barn was gone, the large shed that was in front of the barn, gone. I shined my flashlight toward the back of the farm and saw that the chicken coop was gone and then saw that the pole barn was gone. All those buildings were gone!”

By that time, she was very emotional and distraught because of the full weight of what had truly happened, the devastation, the loss.

She said she had a feeling of utter helplessness.

Cynthia Downey and her fiance Doug Shepherd are shown at a karaoke event which they love to do. Now, they’re busy cleaning up debris at their home after the tornado hit. (Submitted photo)

“Certainly, this was just a nightmare that I would wake up from,” Downey noted.
What was she feeling when all of these things were happening?

“It felt like you were in someone else’s reality, like watching a movie,” she replied. “Pure shock, scared to death. Couldn’t breathe. Like your heart has been ripped from your chest. The unknown can be very frightening. Just devastated at what had happened.”

Downey said she had never been through anything like this before.

As noted before, she has been busy cleaning up the destruction.

“I lost a 40×60 wood peg barn with a corn crib on the one end. It was built in 1903…something that can never be replaced, it’s history,” she reported. “I lost a 40×40 pole barn, a 12×20 chicken coop and another large shed. I lost a total of eight pine trees that were taller than my two-story house. One of the trees fell on the house, others either had fallen or snapped off.”

She said there was also a lot of damage to the house.

“Most of the exterior was damaged…roof, siding, gutters, etc. It wasn’t until a few days later that I noticed a brightness on my enclosed porch and saw where the roof had been raised up and part of the porch detached from the house,” she went on. “Most possessions and equipment that were stored in the barns are at a loss or need fixing, AC tractor got a bit squashed when the top of one of the pine trees landed on it. The large wood play set was destroyed and another swing was flattened by one of the trees that fell. My S10 took a beating: windshield shattered, passenger window obliterated, tailgate twisted, lots of scratches, hoping to get it fixed though.”

She never ever thought this would happen to her.

“Everything on the property was either damaged or destroyed,” she went on. “A lot of things are just gone, I can’t find things that I know I had. Still don’t have a clue on some areas, such as needing to disassemble parts of the mow that fell on top of a section of the wood barn roof, no clue what may be underneath. There is major damage to my yard which is making mowing/yard work a challenge. It is just an overwhelming thing to deal with. Too much to list.”

How is she doing now? “I have lost count of the many tears I have shed. As I watched my pine trees being cut up, all I could do was cry. Not just the loss of very beautiful trees but the loss of the many birds they were home to. I have not heard the coos of the morning doves since. I loved watching the finches and sparrows. How do I replace that?”

Downey is hoping that the insurance will cover most of it.

What is her suggestion to others when it comes to insuring their properties?

“I strongly advise people in similar situations to hire a public adjuster to handle your insurance company. Your insurance agents work for the insurance company and their job is to pay out the least amount they can. A public adjuster works for you, and can decipher all the insurance jargon and get you more than what you would have been aware of that’s covered by your policy,” Downey said.

She said many people are still offering to help her in the cleanup.

“It is just hard to work around schedules and the weather,” she said. “I generally will post on Facebook when I am outside working. If someone wants to join, I would never turn down good help.”

This is what occurred at the property where Cynthia Downey and Doug Shepherd reside on State Route 121 North. (Submitted photo)

Her advice to others on upcoming impending weather?

“Be alert to forecasts and aware of your surroundings,” she stated. “That’s something I strongly urge people to do. Videotape or take detailed pictures of everything you own…buildings, possessions, everything. It will make things easier to deal with regarding insurance should something like this happens to them. They want proof of what you have for pay-outs.”

She anticipated a severe thunderstorm that fateful day but never imagined that a tornado would hit.

“My whole world has been rocked to its core. Every emotion that a human can feel, I have and continue to experience,” she said. “The experience of that night was traumatizing. Every day I have to look at the damage and the destruction. Sometimes it can be depressing and always very overwhelming.”

She concluded, “After the tornado hit, one of the first things I did was grab my phone to call my brother Larry, then reality once again smacked me hard as it had been barely a month since his passing. He was my ‘go-to’ person and now I was reminded that he was also gone. I am physically, mentally and emotionally drained.”

Gloria Hodge was living in the row of homes on Fisher-Dangler Road between Union City and Greenville that were affected by the storm in March. All but five of those structures were targeted by the tornado.

She was home that night, sitting in her front room and watching television, then the lights went out.

“Then, all of a sudden I heard a big boom that blew out my kitchen window with glass flying into my living room. There was glass everywhere,” she said. “Through my entertainment center, I could see behind me and saw something that was ready to fly out and hit me.”

The picture of Gloria Hodge’s companion, the late Robert Hunt, was saved in the storm, but a lot of photos are gone. Some of her furniture, which was salvageable is also shown in the background at her new residence. (Linda Moody photo)

That was when she began to seek help from a Higher Power.

“I prayed but I didn’t get upset. I told God I’m ready to come to heaven,” she recalled, with tears filling her eyes. “After I prayed, the winds settled down and it got quiet. I went to the bathroom and the Lord spoke to me again. He told me to go out so I went back to my sofa again. Two minutes later, an 8×4 went through the kitchen and into the bathroom. I guess God wasn’t ready for me yet. There were two miracles that night.”

Even though she didn’t know the damage at the time, she later learned that some of her furniture was damaged in addition to the broken windows and all the pictures she had on her refrigerator were gone.

She knew her house was off its foundation, and learned her car was totaled with all of its windows blown out when a tree fell on it.

“Someone opened my front door and wanted me to get out but I argued with them,” she said.

She did eventually, but was a little reluctant to look at the devastation just as she still is today.

She wasn’t the only one at home, however. Her tiger cat Joy Joy was there running from room to room.

“She is very independent,” said Gloria who noted that she can’t even hold the animal.
After the storm, Gloria spent a short time with friends Deanna and Glen Best in Greenville.
“I took Joy Joy with me,” she said.

Before the storm ever transpired, Gloria was looking to move into Greenville and her daughter Lillian came to help her in her search. Before long, she found her new home and has fallen in love with it, even though she is homesick for her old neighborhood.

Two months later she moved to her home in Greenville. She fell in love with it.

“It was already furnished with a refrigerator, microwave, range and garbage disposal,” Gloria said. “I did have some of my furnishings brought up to the new place of residence.
“I don’t know what saved my entertainment center,” said Gloria, pointing to it in her new home.

Even though she did not want to stay long at the old home, she said two women found a box of Gloria’s out in the cornfield behind her house.

“It had my mom’s birthstone ring and my ex-husband’s wedding ring in it,” she reported.

“There was another box but I don’t know what was in it.”

Gloria said three of those houses on Fisher-Dangler Road had to be demolished, including hers.

Gloria, who is 80 years of age, had been ill quite a few months back and ended up in a hospital and a nursing home for rehabilitation for injuries she incurred in a fall.

She had undergone a hip replacement and a rod was put into her arm. Both surgeries involved the left side of her body.

But, she is getting around quite well now and has even gotten a new car.

Gloria, for 20-some years, has been known to entertain at nursing homes. To amuse the patients, she would color her hair and style it in a mohawk and wear a tail in the back. She is getting ready to put blue in her hair now.

“My hair made the residents laugh,” she said.

So, she may get back into doing that at the nursing homes.

Another quirk about Gloria, she started collecting toilets after her cousin, the late Gary Hahn, installed a toilet there, leaving her with the pink one.

She kept that collection going and, guess what? They were destroyed in the tornado.

“I miss them,” she said.

After working at the old Neff Lettering for 19 years, she went to work at Fram and was employed there for 29 years when she retired.

What’s her life like now?

“I haven’t been the same since that day,” she said. “I don’t like going out to where my old house was. The garage caved in. If my house would have gone off the foundation anymore, the house would have collapsed. I’ve been having a hard time dealing with it. I moved there 42 years ago. I haven’t been out there since that day. I don’t like going there.”

(Coming soon: Another article on experiences during the second storm that occurred this month)