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Ohio tornado survivors find hope amid rubble

A tornado that killed five people in northwest Ohio over the weekend left behind at least $100 million in damage, officials said Monday.
Image: Tornado damage in Millbury, Ohio
Aerial view of Millbury, Ohio, after a tornado killed at least seven people in the area on Sunday.Dave Zapotosky / The Toledo Blade via EPA
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nathaniel Lender scampered in flip-flops across a plywood floor that was the only part of his house not ripped away by a tornado.

"Have you seen my trampoline?" he asked his mom after spotting a shredded hockey net covered by pieces of splintered wood.

"It's over there," she answered, pointing toward a clump of debris wrapped around a backyard fence post.

Up and down their street in the northwest Ohio village of Millbury, homeowners, friends and strangers sifted through lawns and fields Monday, looking for little reminders of what life was like before a tornado flattened their homes.

What they found gave them a bit of hope: a waterlogged Bible, a Little League baseball trophy, an elementary school yearbook.

Five people died in the tornado that was Ohio's strongest in eight years, part of a line of storms that ripped through the Midwest over the weekend, destroying dozens of homes and an emergency services building in northwest Ohio.

Lake Township Police Chief Mark Hummer revised the death toll downward Monday from seven to five, saying some victims were apparently double-counted.

The storms ripped off a movie-theater roof in Illinois and siding at a Michigan nuclear plant, forcing a shutdown.

But the worst destruction was in northwest Ohio, where a tornado left a strip up to 300 yards wide and 10 miles long littered with wrecked vehicles and family possessions.

Among the victims — all in Ohio — were a mother and her 4-year-old son and the father of a high school valedictorian who had been preparing to address her classmates Sunday, just a few hours after the tornado swept through with wind gusts of 136-165 mph, according to the National Weather Service.

It rated a 3 on a 0-5 scale for measuring tornadoes, with 5 being the most severe, the weather service said.

'Devoted to his family'
Ted Kranz, 46, was the father of Lake High School's valedictorian, said Tim Krugh, president of the school district's board.

Neighbors said Kranz's home was destroyed, and all that was left was a basement filled with water.

"They don't make families any better than the Kranzes," Jim Witt, Lake High School superintendent, told the Toledo Blade. "The parents are terrific, the kids are terrific, it's a loss to our school family and to our community because Ted was an absolutely outstanding man who was devoted to his family, supported our community, supported our schools."

The high school took a direct hit and was a total loss, and at least 50 homes were destroyed. It's likely more will be condemned in the community southeast of Toledo. Damage could top $100 million, Wood County emergency management director Brad Gilbert said Monday.

A tornado earlier had touched down and destroyed several homes west of Toledo in Fulton County, the weather service said, before skipping over the heavily populated suburbs on the southern edge of the city and coming down again in Millbury.

On Monday, Jim Mazey searched for belongings from a friend's house that was leveled. "If I can find just one thing to make them happy," he said. They already recovered a baby blanket and a family cat that was still alive.

Six people were in the home's living room and trying to get to the basement when the tornado came through. Five were injured, two of them seriously.

'Can't believe they lived'
"I look at this and can't believe they lived. The Lord was looking out for them," Mazey said.

Across the street was where Mary Walters and her family had been asleep in upstairs bedrooms when the tornado roared through their house. Walters, 36, and her 4-year-old son, Hayden, were killed.

Her death came a day after she took part in a youth sleepover at a church, said her sister, Amy Sigler. More than anything, Walters was a Christian and a mother, Sigler said Monday.

"Her life revolved around her relationship with Jesus," she said. "She always put her needs before others."

Bailey Bowman, a single mother of a 2-year-old son, died outside the village police station where she and her boyfriend had driven as they tried to outrun the storm in their car.

Mike Granata says he was on the phone with Bowman, his stepdaughter, as she screamed to be heard.

Turned into its path
"She said, 'We're going to the police station, I can't talk,'" Granata said Monday. "Instead of turning left they turned right into its path."

The 21-year-old Bowman worked at a mobile concession stand with her boyfriend at festivals around the Toledo area. She was a generous person who would do anything for anyone and often mentored children who lived in her neighborhood, Granata said.

Kathleen Hammitt, 56, of Wauseon also died in the storm when her car was struck by debris.

Relatives and friends sifted through a grass field behind the Walters' house where the winds had tossed six vehicles. It was littered with innocent memories: the wheel of a toy race car and a Dora the Explorer book.

The Lenders, whose house is across the street, survived the storm in their basement. Almost everything they now have left was down there.

"The top of our house is miles away," said Traci Lender. "People found our pictures 4 miles from here."

She lost her wedding ring, but it hardly mattered. She was just happy to recover anything. Her husband's wallet was found in a pair of shorts in the backyard.

What kept them going were the volunteers who were showing up to help them and their neighbors.

"Just when you think there's no hope," said Traci Lender's husband, Duane Lender. "I know there's good in the world."

A few minutes later, he stooped over to help his son scoop pieces of a broken toy.

"I wish the tornado never, ever happens again," Nathaniel told his dad.

"Me too, buddy," he answered.