MANSFIELD, Ohio — Weather experts on June 7 were still determining the number of tornadoes that struck the state over the weekend — but tornadoes or not — proof of the severity lie in the deaths of Ohioans and millions of dollars in damaged property.
At least five people were reported dead in Ohio’s Wood County, where a tornado 300 yards wide and producing winds of up to 165 mph destroyed houses and farms the night of June 5.
Cars and school buses were overturned, roofs were blown off and some farm buildings were destroyed. Gov. Ted Strickland has declared a state of emergency for Fulton and Wood counties.
Allen Gahler, organizational director for Ohio Farm Bureau in Wood County, said he and neighbors assisted a farm family with cleanup after the storm destroyed their house, all of their buildings, grain bins, tractors and other equipment.
The farm was that of Wood County farmer Gary Welling, located near the intersection of Lemoyne Road and state Route 795.
“There were a bunch of people out there helping them,” Gahler said. “Local farmers are going to chip in and help him (farmer) move the grain.”
Gahler said damage also occurred in parts of Ottawa. One collapsed barn resulted in the loss of a lamb.
The storms in the northwest part of the state were part of a much larger system of severe weather that swept most of the northern half of the state. East of Wood County, in Richland County, Dean Cook and his family could hardly believe what happened.
The cattle and crop farmer experienced a tornado at the same farm near Mansfield, in 1989. And on June 5, after he had just closed some barn curtains because of an oncoming storm, he found himself enduring yet another tornado.
Cook had just returned to his pickup, to wait out the winds, when things worsened and the roof of the cattle barn lifted. He sought cover on the floor of his pickup truck, which the wind pushed forward and into a wagon.
When it was over, pieces of his barn were scattered across the nearby field, a large section of the roof was gone and four of his Holstein beef cattle were injured. Some debris was found a few miles away, near the county line.
Two of Dean’s sons, Bruce and Brian Cook, said they were eating lunch at a nearby property and had no idea how severe conditions were at the farm. No one was injured, but all were shook up.
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The Cooks are still unsure whether they will rebuild. The facility was insured, but with two tornadoes, they don’t like the trend. They made guesses about how two tornadoes could strike the same farm — barometric pressure, a nearby creek, but no certainties.
“You’ve got me,” Brian Cook said. “They ain’t supposed to hit twice in the same spot. Right here’s proof.”
Further southeast, near Sugarcreek, homes and farms experienced similar damage, with a wider spread.
Union Hill Farms, owned by the Lorenz family, suffered severe damage to its century barn and freestall barn, which housed about 125 dry cows.
Jean Lorenz said her husband, Jim, was inside the house at the time and did not know the storm was coming, or how severe it would be.
“The clouds were something he had never seen before and they were swirling,” she said, calling it a “disaster day for Sugarcreek.”
She was unsure whether the main barn could be repaired. It was insured, but beams are damaged, she said.
Clinging to hope
Of everything that blew out or off of the barn, she was delighted that a large star from her church remained, undamaged.
The Cooks and Lorenzes expressed their thanks for their neighbors, who turned out shortly after the storm to offer support. At least 100 were estimated at the Cook farm, where they helped clean up debris and bring food.
“We had what I called an unorganized mess,” Brian Cook said. “It’s an organized mess now.”