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Heeded alarms may have limited deaths in Ohio tornadoes

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Posted at 6:12 AM, May 29, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-29 06:12:44-04

CELINA, Ohio — Strong Memorial Day tornadoes that spun through Ohio and Indiana smashed homes and businesses and sent thousands of people cowering in basements and closets, but just a single death was reported in the aftermath of the destructive storms.

Hospitals reported that as many as 130 people were injured after the tornadoes pounded communities in and around Dayton on Monday night amid a severe weather outbreak.

Officials said more fatalities were prevented by people doing what they were supposed to do when the tornadoes were heading their way.

In hard-hit Celina, site of the only Ohio fatality, Fire Chief Douglas Wolters cited alerts people received on their phones and extensive coverage by TV meteorologists ahead of the storm, giving residents a 10-minute warning.

“Everybody I talked to said they heeded the warning and went straight to the basement,” Wolters said Tuesday evening.

Southwestern Ohio hasn’t been nearly as lucky when tornadoes roared through in previous years. One of the most violent tornadoes ever recorded struck Xenia, Ohio, 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of Dayton, on April 3, 1974, killing 32 people and nearly wiping the city off the map. It was part of what meteorologists termed a Super Outbreak that spawned 148 tornadoes in 13 U.S. states and Ontario, Canada, in a 24-hour period.

Tap to unmuteEarly on April 9, 1999, a powerful twister smashed into Blue Ash and Montgomery near Cincinnati, leaving four people dead and at least 100 homeless.

The Memorial day tornadoes were followed Tuesday night by a vicious storm that tore through the Kansas City area, spawning more tornadoes that damaged homes and injured at least 12 people. Tornado warnings stretched as far east as New York City and the National Weather Service confirmed a touch down in Pennsylvania.

The storms Tuesday were the 12th straight day that at least eight tornadoes were reported to the weather service.

After Monday’s tornadoes, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in the three counties with the most damage.

The storms were among 53 twisters that forecasters said may have touched down Monday across eight states stretching eastward from Idaho and Colorado. The past couple of weeks have seen unusually high tornado activity in the U.S.

The winds peeled away roofs — leaving homes looking like giant dollhouses — knocked houses off their foundations, toppled trees, brought down power lines and churned up so much debris that it could be seen on radar. Highway crews had to use snowplows to clear Interstate 75 near Dayton. One person was also injured in Indiana.

In Celina, Ohio, 82-year-old Melvin Dale Hanna was killed when a parked car was blown into his house, authorities said.

“There’s areas that truly look like a war zone,” said Jeffrey Hazel, mayor of the town of 10,000 about 60 miles (96 kilometers) northwest of Dayton.

RELATED:Celina residents hit with rain after Memorial Day tornado damages homes