Where were you when the storm hit?

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Rosella Chandler Renz (MHS class of ‘64) sent me a scrapbook full of the memories of her mother, Grace, about the tornado that hit Marysville in 1971. Her mother had amassed pictures and stories from the Journal-Tribune about that mega event.
All this brought back our family’s memories of that scary time. The tornado involved much of southern Union County. Marysville was in the middle of it and so was I. It was 46 years ago, June 25, 1971, to be exact, a very hot and muggy Friday evening.
In those days, the Fireman’s Ice Cream Social was a big event downtown on South Main Street at the fire station. Food and homemade ice cream were served, and this was a perfect evening for it.
My husband, Dan, our 18-month-old son, Mike, and I had just left there and were heading home to our house on Collins Avenue. The sky was black in the west, but it just looked like a summer storm. In those days we didn’t have weather radar to alert us. I remember the air was very still and the sky became quite yellow as we drove in the driveway. We would learn that was a bad omen.
So at about 7:30 p.m., the sky was pitch black when it should have still been light. We went to the backyard and after viewing the eerie sky and the lightning, we decided to go inside.
There was a lot of noise and wind like we had never experienced before and then the rain came. It was blowing so hard the rain was going sideways. At that time we didn’t have a basement, only a crawlspace, so we went to the middle of the house. I heard water and then saw it was coming in and rolling down the wall of our bedroom at the front of the house!
We thought maybe the house had some damage to it and that’s why the water was coming in, but would learn that the force of the wind-driven rain was just so strong, it was coming in around the windows. That would later be why our insurance didn’t pay for water damage – the wind-driven rain thing.
I found it really disturbing that there was no basement and we didn’t seem to have a safe place to go in that house. Our little son, Mike, hung onto me like a monkey. His legs were wrapped around my waist and his arms around my neck. He was going nowhere without me.
The noisy storm continued for an hour or two, and then there was just rain for the rest of the evening. There was some thunder and lightning later and the power was off everywhere. That would not return for a few days, so there was no air conditioning, and it was very hot and humid – ugh! Also many phones were out, so there was a little chance for communication, and of course, this was long before any cell phones. It was reported that the storm had severed all communication with Marysville.
At that time the Journal-Tribune was located in a temporary building on North Main Street while the new (current) building at the corner of Fourth and Main was under construction. Dan got word the building had been damaged severely and contents were in the street.
When things calmed down he made his way through town to see what the condition was. Trees were down everywhere, some blocking streets, and chain saws could be heard all over town. That sound would become very familiar for many days to come.
Trees had fallen on cars parked in the street and roofs had been ripped off trailers. Residents just got to work clearing driveways and public streets. A state of emergency was declared and our civil defense was on guard to protect the town from looting.
As Dan drove through town around the downed trees, he was stopped to identify himself. It took some convincing to get through to the newspaper. Finally arriving at the site, he saw it had sustained extensive damage. The entire glass front of the building had been sucked out by the tornado. Glass was covering North Main Street and papers from the business office were all over the area. Following this discovery, he went on an urgent search for plywood to cover the open areas.
The next day, which was Saturday, the Ohio National Guard arrived in town. Some soldiers were stationed right in front of our house on Collins Avenue, which was the edge of town, and also at other entrances to town to protect the residents from looters. They stayed for about three days monitoring those coming and going. Since they were in front of our house we gave them snacks and drinks as often as possible.
Rosella’s mother, Grace, noted she was at home in her air-conditioned trailer when the storm hit. She said, “The sky was yellow, then black and the power went out as the sheets of rain and thunder came. The trailer rocked and I have never been so frightened in my whole life. Just four doors down, a trailer was turned over and another had its roof ripped off.”
The extreme heat and humidity made cleanup even tougher, and remember, the power was off for about two days. In an article in the J-T, Bob Gordon who was the civil defense director, praised the city services saying, “Without Police Chief Vernon Bright and Fire Chief Don Stout, who worked around the clock to coordinate the program, we couldn’t have done the job.”
Our little town of about 5,000 people survived because everyone worked together to return us to normal after a once-in-a-lifetime event … I hope!
(Melanie Behrens – melb@marysvillejt.com



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