Now that I’ve finished with the work order, we can move on to other interesting things. Such as natural disasters. It’s human nature to remember where you were and what you were doing when a disaster occurs. Such as John Kennedy’s assassination. In November 1963 I was at school when I first learned of it. Sixth-grade gym class. I remember a classmate saying, “I bet Nixon’s glad he lost the election.”
But the disaster I have in mind is the tornado that leveled large swaths of Xenia, Ohio, in April 1974.
Instead of me writing about it, I’ll lift a paragraph from Wikipedia’s entry. I donate to the site, so it should be kosher:
The 1974 Super Outbreak was the second-largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period, just behind the 2011 Super Outbreak. It was also the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded, with 30 F4/F5 tornadoes confirmed. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 U.S. states and the Canadian province of Ontario.[nb 1] In the United States, tornadoes struck Illinois,Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York. The entire outbreak caused more than $600 million (1974 USD) in damage in the United States alone, and extensively damaged approximately 900 sq mi (2,331 km2) along a total combined path length of 2,600 mi (4,184 km). At one point, as many as 15 separate tornadoes were ongoing at the same time.
The most damage done in Ohio was at Xenia. Thirty-three people were killed, and the above photo captures some of the devastation. Xenia is 43 miles to the northeast of Sharonville. Where I was at work when the cloud that spawned the tornado that touched down in Xenia passed directly overhead. It was about 7:30, because we were on lunch break. It got really dark, and that cloud looked terrible. It rained, then hailed. The hailstones were golf ball size, or bigger. Thirteen cars had their windshields broken out. My car looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. One young guy had just gotten his car painted, so when the hail started he ran out to drive it into the loading dock, to get it out of the storm. He never made it. A hailstone hit his arm, and he turned around and ran back inside. His arm swelled up to twice its size. Everyone else had enough sense to stay inside.
After the storm passed over on its way to Xenia, people tried calling home. This was long before cell phones, so we used the company landline phone. A lot of lines were down and people had a difficult time getting through. Several people left work early, but most of us stayed and finished out the shift, which ended at midnight. At the time I was living in an apartment in Lebanon, with my wife and our 18-month old son. On the radio I had heard a tornado had touched down in Mason, but had heard nothing about Lebanon.
So when I drove home I found the Lebanon exit blocked by a police car. It was late and I was tired, so I didn’t make the connection with the storm, I just assumed there had been a wreck and the exit was closed. So I continued north and took the next exit. Heading south into Lebanon, everything was black. I realized something was seriously wrong when I drove into a downed line in the middle of the road. Lucky for me the power was out. I backed up and drove around it, now creeping carefully down the dark road hoping not to drive into anything else. Even in the dark I could see debris scattered everywhere.
I arrived home to find my four-unit apartment building undamaged (except for some shingles gone). My wife and son weren’t there. She’d left a note telling me they were at the house of a friend who lived nearby who had a basement. So I drove there, happy to find they were both okay. She told me they had been in the apartment when a tornado touched down a block away. It flattened the Sea-Way store, a large box store similar to Walmart. She and our son had huddled under a desk in the living room. Once the wind died down, they had gone to our friend’s house and had stayed with her in the basement listening to the radio. We spent the rest of the night sitting up in her basement listening to reports coming in, mostly about Xenia.
The next day we saw how bad the damage was. The tornado had come up Mound Street, where it uprooted dozens of large old oak trees and badly damaged several dozen houses before destroying the Sea-Way store on Route 42. No one I worked with suffered any personal loss. We now have tornado drills at work. For a tornado we are supposed to gather in the break room. But if a tornado ever does hit Brighton, I’m heading for a press or flanger pit. Next best thing to a basement.