BROOKVILLE, Ohio—A swarm of tornadoes so tightly packed that one may have crossed the path carved by another tore across Indiana and Ohio overnight, smashing homes, blowing out windows and ending the school year early for some students because of damage to buildings. One person was killed and at least 130 were injured.
The storms were among 53 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down on May 27 across eight states stretching eastward from Idaho and Colorado.
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 could be seen on radar. Highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an Ohio interstate.
Some of the heaviest damage was reported just outside Dayton, Ohio.
“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.
In Celina, Ohio, 81-year-old Melvin Dale Hannah was killed when a parked car was blown into his house, authorities said.
“There’s areas that truly look like a war zone,” Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said Tuesday.
Storm reports posted online by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center showed that 14 suspected tornadoes touched down in Indiana, 11 in Colorado and nine in Ohio. Six were reported in Iowa, five in Nebraska, four in Illinois and three in Minnesota, with one in Idaho.
At least half a dozen communities from eastern Indiana through central Ohio suffered damage, according to the National Weather Service. The storms damaged homes, blew out windows, toppled trees and left debris so thick that at one point, highway crews had to use snowplows to clear an interstate.
The National Weather Service tweeted Monday night that a “large and dangerous tornado” hit near Trotwood, Ohio, eight miles northwest of Dayton. Several apartment buildings were damaged or destroyed, including the Westbrooke Village Apartment complex, where an aerial photo shows the roof blown off entirely.
Severe storms, capable of producing large hail, damaging wind, and tornadoes are likely this afternoon into tonight from the central Plains to the Midwest and across the Upper Ohio Valley into the Northeast this afternoon and evening. The full forecast: https://t.co/TgJgC5UHLo pic.twitter.com/RA6LeyWECu
— NWS SPC (@NWSSPC) May 28, 2019
Just before midnight, not 40 minutes after that tornado cut through, the weather service tweeted that another one was traversing its path, churning up debris densely enough to be seen on radar.
In Trotwood, Mayor Mary McDonald reported “catastrophic damage” in the community of some 24,500 people. Hara Arena, idled in recent years after decades as a popular sports and entertainment venue, sustained “a huge amount of damage.”
The mayor said five busloads of displaced residents have been taken to a church offering temporary shelter while the American Red Cross assesses needs.
Some of the heaviest hits were recorded in towns just outside Dayton. In Vandalia, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) directly north of the city, Francis Dutmers and his wife were headed for the basement and safety Monday night when the storm hit with “a very loud roar.”
“I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands,” said Dutmers, who said the winds blew out windows around his house, filled rooms with storm debris, and took down most of his trees. But he and his wife were not injured and the house is still livable, he said.
In Brookville, west of Dayton, the storm tore roofs off schools, destroyed a barn and heavily damaged houses.
Crews were also clearing debris in two other counties northwest of Dayton.
In Dayton, the storm caused a few minor injuries but no reported fatalities. Dayton Fire Chief Jeffrey Payne called that “pretty miraculous” during a Tuesday morning briefing. Payne attributed the good news to people heeding early warnings about the storm.
Residents say sirens started going off around 10:30 p.m. Monday ahead of the storm.
Mayor Nan Whaley urged residents to check on neighbors, especially those who are housebound. Multiple schools in the area were closed or had delayed starts Tuesday.
City Manager Shelley Dickstein said a boil advisory has been issued for residents after the storms cut power to Dayton’s pump stations, and that generators are being rushed in.
The response will require a “multi-day restoration effort,” utility Dayton Power & Light said in an early morning tweet. The company said 64,000 of its customers alone were without power.
In Montgomery County, which includes Dayton, Sheriff Rob Streck said many roads were impassable. The Montgomery County sheriff’s office initially said the Northridge High School gymnasium would serve as an emergency shelter in Dayton but later said it wasn’t useable.
In Indiana, at least 75 homes were damaged in Pendleton and the nearby community of Huntsville, said Madison County Emergency Management spokesman Todd Harmeson. No serious injuries were reported in the area or other parts of the state.
Residents in Pendleton, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) northeast of Indianapolis, were being urged to remain in their homes Tuesday morning because of dangers posed by fallen trees, downed power lines and utility poles that were also blocking roads.
“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, but we still have power lines down, we still have hazards out there,” Harmeson said.
Pendleton High School was opened as a shelter for the community, where more than 3,500 homes and businesses were without power and utility crews were at work repairing downed power lines.
Harmeson said only one injury was reported in Madison County, that of a person who suffered a small cut to their forehead and was treated and released from a local hospital.
“We’re very fortunate,” he said.
The National Weather Service said a survey team will investigate damage in Madison County and possibly in Henry County. Another team may survey damage in Tippecanoe County.
The latest apparent tornadoes came two nights after a twister struck a motel and mobile home park in El Reno, Oklahoma, killing two people and injuring 29. President Donald Trump tweeted Tuesday morning that that he spoke from Japan with Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and told him that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the “federal government are fully behind him and the great people of Oklahoma.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 28, 2019
By Angie Wang, John Minchillo, and Kantele Franko