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‘Small but mighty’ Cloverdale recovers from tornado PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, November 19, 2013 9:09 PM

BY ANNE COBURN-GRIFFIS

Sentinel Editor

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CLOVERDALE — There was no such thing as “just passing through” Putnam County’s Cloverdale early this week. Anyone entering the town had to park at village limits or skirt the town entirely. Sunday’s chaotic evening of storms produced at least two tornadoes, one of which was an F2, that physically devastated the small community west of the juncture of St. Rts. 114 and 634.

An estimated 137 people were left without power and water in Cloverdale. The American Red Cross Northwest Ohio Region opened a shelter at Oak Haven Residential Center, located at 152 Main St., late Sunday evening for those affected by the storm. It will remain on standby until power has been restored. More than 230 meals, water and hot drinks were provided Monday and throughout the day on Tuesday. In addition to meals, the Red Cross aided volunteers who left their vehicles on the village outskirts on Monday to navigate through downed trees and power lines to help clear the main roads for emergency and utility vehicles.

Crop Production Services brought in water for use by residents to wash items soiled by mud from the storm.

Cloverdale’s buildings may be down but the community is still standing. Although shell-shocked, many residents were already hard at work driving heavy street-cleaning equipment, delivering hot beverages to combat the cold winds and hand-salvaging what could be saved from demolished homes and the sanctuary and rectory of St. Barbara’s Catholic Church, the only church in town.

Carl Luersman, Kalida, was off work on Monday. Although his home was without power, Luersman’s two young children were at school, where they had access to food, water and working restrooms. He attends St. Barbara’s, so he drove to Cloverdale to see what he could do to help. He parked on Plank Road but stopped within 100 yards of his car to help pick up broken furniture, sheet metal and insulation – remnants of the foundation of a destroyed home.

One woman, who only identified herself as Yvonne, said, “I think it was a trailer.”

Across a few more streets snaked with power lines and under low-hanging cables stood what remained of St. Barbara’s. The sanctuary was reduced to a corner of rubble and the outer walls of the rectory were sheered to reveal offices and living quarters. But a boulder-mounted statue of the Virgin Mary was left untouched in front (east) of the church. The parish center, a few steps south of the sanctuary, was also left standing. Ottoville fire and rescue workers used this as a base and a cold weather shelter as they secured the scene.

“Last night we had Kalida and Continental here for assistance,” said Ottovile Fire Chief Dan Honigford Monday. “We’ve counted approximately 70 to 80 structures that have been damaged in Cloverdale and east of town. Luckily, nobody was hurt.”

Of the 67 homes in the village, 42 were damaged; five of those were destroyed.

“I’m going to give the mayor of this town a lot of credit for his quick thinking,” praised Honigford of Cloverdale Mayor Jud Spencer. “He got a number of people down at the community center storm cellar. I think that probably saved either a lot of injuries or possibly even some deaths. When we first pulled up on scene around 4:30 p.m., we expected the worst.”

Right away, the rescue crews started searching home to home. The mayor had already accounted for a number of people. Those that lost their homes were sent to the nursing home to stay overnight. Only one basic injury required treatment; one village resident’s hand was cut by glass.

The Putnam County Red Cross set up a temporary shelter in the nursing home where individuals could find shelter, food and treatment. The Red Cross also dispatched a number of vehicles throughout the community to provide help to victims and volunteers.

The mayor himself was out on Monday organizing street cleanup. He paused briefly on Mahoning Street to give an account of Sunday evening’s events.

“Leading up to the storm, we kind of foresaw a lot of that coming,” Spencer said, “so people were already getting to where they needed to be. There were four families down in the community center. After it hit, I went down right over that wall and started taking babies. We took four babies out and took them over to the nursing home for shelter because they were afraid another storm was on its way.”

The Cloverdale Community Club, situated in the center of town on Mahoning, looks a little battered from the front. Take a few steps to the left and the true nature of the building’s damage is made clear: the vestibule of the structure is twisted, dipping sharply toward the ground.

Spencer stared at the building, shook his head and said, “It actually hit at 5:15 p.m. and lasted approximately 15 seconds. Mother Nature really flexed her muscles. But in a small community, everybody knows everybody so we just started doing head counts. I sent people in different directions to do sweeps. We rechecked propane tanks, power lines and for people.”

He added that law enforcement barricaded the town and kept traffic from entering the village because of downed power lines. According to Randy Payne, AEP Ohio community affairs manager, protective devices are in place in the event that lock out the circuit all the way back to the sub station when a line or pole is downed. Danger from live power lines still existed in Cloverdale, however, as the many operating generators could have back-fed into the system.

Throughout Monday, volunteers and villagers continued to work together. By 3 p.m. on Tuesday, the streets were cleared enough that media could park on Main Street to attend a community meeting with Cloverdale residents. AEP officials, including Payne, reassured customers that power would be restored to most by 10 p.m.

“We see a lot of storms and a lot of devastation, but I’ll tell you, I’ve not seen a community come together like I’ve seen this community come together,” said Selwyn Dias, vice president of distribution operations for AEP Ohio.

“Small but mighty,” responded Spencer.

 

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