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Tornado spins close call in Youngstown

Workers catch full fury of storms

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

By Jan Ackerman, Mackenzie Carpenter and Patrick Hernan

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio -- As Melody Bloomingdale worked at her desk inside a cinder-block building in an industrial part of the city, the radio in her office was broadcasting severe weather warnings for Mahoning County.

It was about 1:15 p.m. on what had been an uneventful Monday at the Ziegler Tire Co. on Poland Avenue. Bloomingdale, an administrative assistant at Ziegler, turned her back on the front windows to do some work on her computer. That's when the tornado touched down.

"The two windows blew out and hit me in the back," she recalled yesterday. "I looked outside and the trees were kissing the ground."

John Tutoki, 10, and his friends gathered yesterday at a makeshift memorial that was accumulating on metal plates used to cover a drainage ditch in Warren, Ohio, where John Keytack, 10, drowned Monday. The boy was riding his bicycle with friends when his foot got stuck and 5 feet of water swept over him. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

Online Map:
Tornado hits Youngstown

She was in a second-floor office of a two-story building, a dangerous place to be in a tornado.

"I was going to try to make it downstairs, but the windows on the other side of the building blew out."

She managed to lie down under her desk for what, she said, seemed like an eternity, but was probably not more than a minute. She felt the desk lifting up. Pieces of blocks and steel hit her on the back, hips and side. The desk split in two.

Luckily, she suffered only bruises.

When she got up, the roof and walls of her office were gone. Her colleague, Larry Siwula, 20, of Niles, Ohio, helped her climb out of the tangled wires and debris. Siwula was downstairs when the garage door flew off the building, an upper deck came crashing down and a wall collapsed.

"I called out 'Can I go home?' " Siwula said yesterday.

No one was killed in the tornado that touched down in Youngstown around 1:45 p.m. Monday.

But in nearby Warren, 10-year-old John Keytack drowned after he wandered into a drainage ditch with a strong current. His foot got stuck in a drain 5 feet underwater. He was riding his bicycle with friends when the accident occurred.

Destructive storms that swept across northeastern Ohio and into northwestern Pennsylvania Monday spawned a second, weaker tornado in Mercer County, as well as strong winds and extensive flooding, weather officials said.

Dan Ohoro, of A.P. Ohoro Construction Company, prepares an estimate to clean up the remains of the Ziegler Tire company on Poland Avenue in Youngstown, Ohio. The roof was ripped off during a storm Monday. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

The Youngstown tornado was rated an "F-1" tornado on the Fujita scale with winds between 75 and 110 mph. It cut an eight-mile path through the northeastern part of the city, downing many trees, blowing two railroad cars off the tracks and damaging about 100 houses in scattered sites.

The second tornado touched ground near New Lebanon, in the northeast corner of Mercer County. It was an "F-0" on the Fujita scale, which measures twisters by the amount of damage they cause, with winds estimated at 70 mph.

Damage was widespread, affecting 26 of the county's municipalities. Two houses were destroyed Monday afternoon near Carrollton.

In all, 900 incidents were reported to the emergency operations center between 1 p.m. Monday and 1 a.m. yesterday. Most calls related to street flooding and downed trees.

Frank Heinecke, 70, a resident of Lakeview Estates Mobile Home Park in New Lebanon, said he was looking southeast from his unit and saw a cloud of swirling debris at about 2 p.m.

"It was really raining, and wind was blowing," said Heinecke. "I said, 'Come look at this, Bernice. It's just like on TV.'"

Randy Brown clears away a 60-foot oak that narrowly missed his house in Hermitage when high winds blew down the trewe Monday afternoon. (Darrell Sapp, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

The tornado toppled trees onto at least two units, including one occupied by Gladys Maskrey.

"I feel lucky to be alive," said Maskrey, 69.

About a quarter-mile away, a trailer occupied by Jamie DuMond was lifted from its blocks and set back down.

A microburst, the meteorological term for straight-line winds, also did damage to a one-quarter square mile area of Mercer County slightly farther north, near Carlton, which is near the Crawford County border. Its winds were actually stronger than the tornado's, at 75 miles per hour.

Franklin, in Mercer County, appeared to be hardest hit by torrential rain that swamped much of the state's northern tier, dumping more than 5 inches at Franklin Airport, said Bob Davis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

In Oil City, Venango County, scaffolding was blown down at a Salvation Army building under construction, high winds tore off roofs from buildings in the Oil City Industrial Park and most of the 11,500 residents were without power last night.

Two F-1 tornadoes touched down in McKean County, and one collapsed the Kinzua Viaduct..

While the most violent weather is behind us, unsettled conditions persist and more showers and thunderstorms can be expected in the next few days, said Jeff Warner, a meteorologist at Penn State University. Flood watches and warnings were also posted again yesterday for much of northwestern Pennsylvania.

But there's one silver lining amid the thunderclouds.

"We don't expect any hot weather anytime soon," Warner said.

Post-Gazette staff writer Lori Shontz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Mackenzie Carpenter can be reached at mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949; Jan Ackerman can be reached at jackerman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1370. Patrick Hernan is a freelance writer.

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