Twister kills one, injures dozens in city at epicenter of fabled '74 storm

XENIA, Ohio - A tornado swept through town, killing one person and injuring dozens of others as it left overturned cars, damaged buildings and downed power lines.

Authorities searched through the night for other possible victims of the storm that hit around 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

''We are going home by home to see if everybody is OK,'' Mayor John Saraga said.

The storm - confirmed as a tornado by the National Weather Service - was a frightening reminder of a twister that struck the southwestern Ohio city a quarter-century ago, leaving 33 people dead and millions of dollars in damage. Authorities said the damage Wednesday, while significant, was far smaller.

''Ninety percent of our city is in good shape,'' Saraga said.

Still, at least 100 people were injured, and at least 14 were admitted to hospitals. One person was in critical condition and three were in serious condition Thursday.

The person who died, whose identity was not immediately released, was in a car that was crushed by a tree near the Greene County fairgrounds, Sheriff Jerry Erwin said.

Ruby Godfrey was in the Dayton Avenue Baptist Church when she heard hail pound the roof, which was eventually torn off.

''We're hitting the floor, getting under pews. You heard the roar. You saw the roof flying off and then it was gone,'' Godfrey said.

Gov. Bob Taft issued an emergency declaration for Xenia late Wednesday night.

Crews searched through the night for possible storm victims in the rubble of a grocery store that collapsed, though there were no reports of anyone missing. Nothing was found as of daybreak Thursday, but one more search was planned.

All that remained of the Groceryland was a tangle of steel girders, drywall and insulation. But cans of food still could be seen stacked neatly on a shelf inside.

Substantial damage also was reported at a Wal-Mart store where cars were overturned, utility lines fell and trees splintered. Windows were shattered and walls collapsed.

''There really was no warning,'' said employee Travis Waddle, 20. ''I saw the tiles come down and people running and everybody screaming.''

He said some people suffered cuts and bruises, but he saw no major injuries inside the store.

About 75 percent of Xenia remained without power at daybreak, the city manager said. Schools were closed in the city of 23,800 people about 20 miles southeast of Dayton.

''I was tired of being in the dark and I wanted to know what was going on,'' said Robin Hunter, 44, who spent the night at a temporary shelter set up at a local elementary school.

The tornado that swept through Xenia and southwest Ohio on April 3, 1974, was one of a series of storms over two days that killed more than 300 people in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio. It was one of the worst outbreaks of tornadoes in the past 75 years.

Elsewhere in southwest Ohio on Wednesday night, heavy rains damaged roofs and downed trees and power lines.

The sheriff said Wednesday that the damage from the latest storm was not nearly as bad as the '74 tornado in size and damage.

In central Ohio, storms damaged 15 homes north of Columbus.


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