WOOSTER, Ohio — Shattered glass, broken pieces of concrete and splintered trees and treetops littered the main campus of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center Thursday evening, Sept. 16, following a major windstorm many say was a tornado.
Known as the nation’s largest research center of its kind — 400 or more people can be found there on a typical day. Fortunately, the storm hit at about 5:30 p.m., a time when many had just left.
Of those still on campus, no serious injuries were reported.
“At this point, it seems as though we may have been very fortunate,” said Associate Director Bill Ravlin, commenting from a communications command center Thursday night.
The county’s Emergency Management director, John Wise, said there was one report of a head injury but said that individual declined to be treated.
Wise was not sure how extensive damage will be — to the OARDC or to other local properties — but indicated it could be extensive.
“Damage assessment will start as soon as we get some daylight and are able to see what’s going on,” he said. “Tonight, we’re looking at personnel and security issues.”
Fire and rescue personnel and local law enforcement were on the scene in multitudes, directing people away from power lines and other hazards, and assisting cleanup.
Ravlin was in his office at the time of the storm. He heard the sirens, and “it wasn’t very long after that when all of a sudden, the building took a direct hit by what I guess is a tornado,” he said. “It basically cut a diagonal across campus.”
Sarahi Nunez, a visiting scholar from Honduras, was in a house on campus.
“It (campus) is completely devastated,” she said. “I never have seen anything like this in my life.”
Kevin Power, an entomologist who has worked at OARDC for many years, came to check the condition of his office. But he had several hundred feet of fallen block, downed trees and power lines to cross, before he could get there.
“I worked here for 32 years and I never would have dreamed to see the devastation to some of our buildings,” he said.
Power only lives about one-and-a-half miles away from OARDC, and experienced nothing to suggest the damage happening only a short distance away.
The storm came on the last day of the Wayne County Fair, but damage there appeared minimal. A small building upended and landed in a creek, temporarily damming its flow, but officials removed it in minutes.
The Secrest Arboretum, located on campus, is a popular destination for evening walkers, plant and bird seekers. The property dates back more than 100 years and houses more than 2,000 trees and shrubs.
Damage in the arboretum varied from none, to trees that were blown over, broken at the top and debarked. No injuries were reported there, either.
Wise said there are sufficient emergency personnel involved and cautioned the public to let them work.
“The best thing they can do is give us room to work,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of people on scene, we’ve got all of the assistance that we need right now.”
Ravlin summed up what seemed to be everyone’s deepest feeling.
“There’s a lot of physical damage here but the important thing is that our people are safe,” he said. “The potential for a real problem was certainly there.”
Including all its properties, the Wooster OARDC campus comprises 4,000 acres in a 35 square mile area. The damage was primarily confined to the main offices and laboratories.