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Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 21, 2000

Wednesday night’s powerful storm that killed one person and left a two-mile path of tornado destruction in Xenia left the Tri-State unscathed, weather officials said.

Thursday, September 21, 2000

Wednesday night’s powerful storm that killed one person and left a two-mile path of tornado destruction in Xenia left the Tri-State unscathed, weather officials said.

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"The main focus of the storm seemed to stay north of Lawrence County," said Randall Hatfield, meterologist with the National Weather Service in Charleston, W.Va. "We’ve been trying to track down damage but so far I haven’t found any."

In Xenia, though, the situation turned grim as the storm spawned a tornado that killed one person, injured at least 100 others and left a path of destroyed and damaged buildings, overturned cars and down power lines.

A tornado did strike, although its wind speed and size had not been determined, the National Weather Service said.

Gov. Bob Taft, who declared an emergency in the city 20 miles from Dayton, toured the damage this morning.

”It was about the same path as it was 26 years ago,” resident Bob McKinney, 58, said Thursday as he walked around the Greene County Fairgrounds to see the damage. However, authorities said the damage appeared to be less.

Police using dogs seached the rubble of a collapsed grocery store until daybreak for possible victims, but found none, said City Manager Jim Percival.

”There were people inside the store at the time. As far as we know, everyone has been removed,” he said.

About 75 percent of Xenia remained without power at daybreak, the city manager said.

The death occurred at the fairgrounds where a tree crushed a car, Sheriff Jerry Erwin said. The victim was not immediately identified.

The storm was a frightening reminder of a tornado that struck Xenia a quarter-century ago leaving 33 people dead and millions of dollars in damage.

Most of Wednesday’s injured were being treated at hospitals in Xenia and nearby Dayton and at least 14 were admitted.

Eight people were admitted at Miami Valley Hospital in Dayton and one remained in critical condition early Thursday, according to Christopher Craft, administrative officer. Three patients were in serious condition and four were listed a fair, he said.

At Greene Memorial Hospital in Xenia, six people were admitted for treatment of injuries ranging from fractures to a collapsed lung, said Gretchen Rives, public relations coordinator.

Percival said one more search of the remains of the mid-sized Groceryland food store was planned in daylight Thursday to make sure there were no victims there.

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

The storm line continued to move through Ohio, heading toward Lawrence County and neighboring Kentucky, but its strength dwindled, Hatfield said.

Major parts of the line hit Jackson and Vinton counties in Ohio and northern Mason County in West Virginia, he said.

"We lucked out," Hatfield said.

There were scattered trees down, which toppled an occasional power line, but that’s about it for the Tri-State, he said.

At the Tri-State Airport, weather guages recorded 20/100ths of an inch of rain and maximum wind speeds of 45 miles per hour, which peaked at 10:12 p.m., he said.

In Xenia, about 20 miles southeast of Dayton, the storm and its high winds hit at 7:30 p.m.

About half of the city was without electricity at one point.

Robin Hunter, 44, was among a handful of people spending the night at Shawnee Elementary School, which was set up as a temporary shelter.

Hunter said she was at home when she heard the tornado sirens go off. ”We just laid in the hallway for a little bit,” she said.

She said her home was not damaged but she came to the shelter because the storm knocked out her power.

”I was tired of being in the dark and I wanted to know what was going on,” Hunter said.

Substantial damage also was reported outside a Wal-Mart store where cars were overturned, car windows shattered, utility lines fell and trees splintered. Some ceiling tiles in the store also fell, store windows were broken and walls collapsed.

”There really was no warning,” said Wal-Mart employee Travis Waddle, 20, of Beavercreek. ”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.

The roof was blown off the Dayton Avenue Baptist Church, one of four area churches where damage was reported.

Ruby Godfrey was in the church. She described hearing hail pound the roof. ”We’re hitting the floor, getting under pews. You heard the roar. You saw the roof flying off and then it was gone.”

Bruce Hull was in the church parking lot. ”It started to swirl. I heard a train sound,” he said. ”I just laid down in my car.”

Neither Godfrey nor Hull was injured.

At one point Wednesday night, authorities went house to house in Xenia to check on the well-being of residents, Mayor John Saraga said.

”Ninety percent of our city is in good shape,” he said of the property damage.

Authorities and officials with the National Weather Service said they had no verification of any tornado touchdown.

Allen Randall, a meteorologist with weather service in Wilmington, said radar indicated some straight-line winds of 60 to 70 mph in southwestern Ohio.

Dick Kimmins of the Ohio Emergency Management Agency said Gov. Bob Taft issued an emergency declaration for Xenia about 10:30 p.m.

”That opens up an enormous amount of state resources for local officials to call upon if they require the help,” Kimmins said.

A tornado swept through Xenia and southwest Ohio on April 3, 1974, killing 33 people. The sheriff said Wednesday that the damage from the latest storm was not nearly as bad as the ’74 tornado in size and damage.

Elsewhere in Ohio, property damage and minor injuries from the storm were reported in Warren and Delaware counties.

Fourteen homes were damaged and one destroyed in Delaware County, north of Columbus. Children injured from falling branches and power outages were among the troubles emergency crews faced in Warren Country in southwestern Ohio. None of the injuries was serious.