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'The scariest thing I’ve ever been through:’ Children survived powerful tornado by sheltering inside church bathrooms

By Renee Duff, AccuWeather meteorologist
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
May 30, 2019, 10:33:17 PM EDT


When the sun rose over Dayton, Ohio, and surrounding communities Tuesday morning, the new dawn revealed the aftermath of a horrifying night: a devastating path of destruction left behind by a powerful tornado that struck Dayton and nearby areas including Vandalia, damaging dozens of structures.

These areas were under a tornado emergency as the dangerous tornado was reported late Monday night. At least one fatality was reported in Celina, which is about 75 miles northwest of Dayton, as of Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service (NWS) called it a life-threatening situation as the tornado swept through the heavily populated area. By Tuesday afternoon, the NWS had classified the storm as an EF3 tornado, meaning its winds reached speeds of 136 mph to 165 mph. On Thursday, the NWS upped the tornado rating to an EF4.

"Upon further review of damage by NWS survey teams, the tornado that moved across Montgomery County from west of Brookville through Trotwood to Dayton to Riverside is now rated as an EF4 tornado with estimated maximum winds of 170 mph," the NWS said.

Late Tuesday morning, the NWS confirmed EF3 tornado damage, in Beavercreek, Ohio, about 10 miles east of Dayton. The twister packed winds up to 140 mph. On Wednesday afternoon, the NWS confirmed that an EF2 tornado occurred near West Milton in Miami County, Ohio, on Monday, May 27.

Overnight and early morning pictures on social media Tuesday showed strewn trees and severely damaged homes in the area. Law enforcement reported that the New Life Worship Center just north of Dayton was completely destroyed.

A youth group of about 25 members and staff took shelter in the church bathrooms as tornadoes tore through western Ohio and around Dayton late Monday night. On Tuesday, AccuWeather National Reporter Jonathan Petramala visited Vandalia, which is just north of Dayton, and spoke with some of the children who rode out the storm inside the New Life Worship Center.

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through, and it was the loudest thing I have ever heard,” said tornado survivor Miranda Dobbs. Dobbs said that the only part of the church that wasn't destroyed were the bathrooms, where the children and staff remained safe. “That’s how I know God’s real,” Dobbs added.

The church was all but reduced to rubble by the tornado, its steeple toppled by the powerful winds. Blake Gifford who also hunkered down in the church when the storm hit, told Petramala, "The wall that my head was up against was shaking back and forth." He said the sound of the tornado was like that of "a jet engine."

Lauren Rudd also recalled the harrowing moments inside the church, telling Petramala, "You could just hear cracking and snapping ... it was just like you were surrounded and there was nothing you could do. It was the most terrifying thing."

(Twitter photo/@divers)

Danny Ivers, a candidate for Hamilton City Council in Ohio, traveled to Dayton on Wednesday, May 29, with Haven Youth Group to help with cleanup efforts and photograph the devastation.

(Twitter photo/@divers)

Danny Ivers, a candidate for Hamilton City Council in Ohio, traveled to Dayton on Wednesday, May 29, with Haven Youth Group to help with cleanup efforts and photograph the devastation.

(Twitter photo/@divers)

Danny Ivers, a candidate for Hamilton City Council in Ohio, traveled to Dayton on Wednesday, May 29, with Haven Youth Group to help with cleanup efforts and photograph the devastation.

(Twitter photo/@divers)

Danny Ivers, a candidate for Hamilton City Council in Ohio, traveled to Dayton on Wednesday, May 29, with Haven Youth Group to help with cleanup efforts and photograph the devastation.

(Twitter photo/@divers)

Danny Ivers, a candidate for Hamilton City Council in Ohio, traveled to Dayton on Wednesday, May 29, with Haven Youth Group to help with cleanup efforts and photograph the devastation.

(Twitter photo/@divers)

Danny Ivers, a candidate for Hamilton City Council in Ohio, traveled to Dayton on Wednesday, May 29, with Haven Youth Group to help with cleanup efforts and photograph the devastation.

(Twitter photo/@divers)

Danny Ivers, a candidate for Hamilton City Council in Ohio, traveled to Dayton on Wednesday, May 29, with Haven Youth Group to help with cleanup efforts and photograph the devastation.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Erica Bohannon, leads reporters through her destroyed apartment after a tornado storm system passed through the area the night before, on Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Trotwood, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Debris is strewn about as homes are open up to the air Tuesday, May 28, 2019, at the Westbrooke Village Apartments in Trotwood, Ohio, after their roofs were torn off from a severe storm the night before.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm-damaged homes remain after a tornado passed through the area the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damaged homes remain after a tornado passed through the area the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Erica Bohannon's apartment was destroyed after a tornado storm system passed through the area Monday night, tearing her roof off while she huddled with her son and dog in her bedroom closet in Trotwood, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damage litters a residential neighborhood, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Vandalia, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damage litters a residential neighborhood, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Vandalia, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damage litters a residential neighborhood, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Residents and volunteers help clear debris from damaged homes resulting from a tornado storm system that passed through the region the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Residents and volunteers help clear debris from damaged homes resulting from a tornado storm system that passed through the region the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Residents and volunteers help clear debris from damaged homes resulting from a tornado storm system that passed through the region the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damage liters a residential neighborhood, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Vandalia, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damage litters a residential neighborhood, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Vandalia, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

A section of roof remains torn from Brookville High School after a tornado hit the area the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

A section of roof remains torn from Brookville High School after a tornado hit the area the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damage litters a residential neighborhood, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Vandalia, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Storm damage liters a residential neighborhood, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Vandalia, Ohio.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Homes stand damaged after a tornado passed through the area the previous evening, Tuesday, May 28, 2019, in Brookville, Ohio.

(Twitter photo/ Mayor of Dayton Nan Whaley)

Nan Whaley, the mayor of Dayton, Ohio, posted photos of the tornado damage on her Twitter account on Tuesday, May 28.

(Twitter photo/ Mayor of Dayton Nan Whaley)

Significant storm damage is visible at Foxton Court off of Shoup Mill Road in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 28, after a devastating tornado moved over the city.

(Twitter photo/ Mayor of Dayton Nan Whaley)

Significant storm damage is visible at Foxton Court off of Shoup Mill Road in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 28, after a devastating tornado moved over the city.

(Twitter photo/ Mayor of Dayton Nan Whaley)

Significant storm damage is visible at Foxton Court off of Shoup Mill Road in Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 28, after a devastating tornado moved over the city.

(Twitter photo/ Mayor of Dayton Nan Whaley)

Damage was reported around the Ramada Inn on Wagner Ford Road after a tornado swept through Dayton, Ohio.

(Instagram photo/@yojoshmartinez)

"It’s the first time I’ve encountered a tornado. Luckily I’m far enough way where we only lost power," wrote an Instagram user who shared this image during a tornado that struck Dayton, Ohio.

(Twitter photo/@MichaelTope)

Debris is strewn around outside of an apartment complex in Dayton, Ohio, after a tornado struck the area late on May 27.

(Twitter photo/@MichaelTope)

A home in Dayton, Ohio, suffered damage after after at least one tornado struck the city late on May 27.

(Photo/Ohio Department of Transportation)

Damage is strewn across Interstate 75 north of Dayton, Ohio, on Monday night.

(Twitter photo/@MichaelTope)

The interior of a home suffered considerable damage following a tornado that struck Dayton, Ohio, on May 27.

(Twitter photo/@MichaelTope)

"Our home is destroyed...I never thought that this kind of thing would ever happen," tweeted Michael Tope in the early morning hours of May 28 after a tornado hit his house in Dayton, Ohio.

(Twitter photo/@EquateHD)

Trees cover the ground in a Dayton, Ohio, neighborhood in the early morning hours of May 28 after a tornado devastated the area late Monday night.

(Twitter photo/@ODOT_Dayton)

Trucks and crews with the Ohio Department of Transportation worked to clear debris off of Interstate 75 north of Dayton in the early morning hours of May 28, following a tornado strike.

(Instagram photo/@yojoshmartinez)

"It’s the first time I’ve encountered a tornado. Luckily I’m far enough way where we only lost power," wrote an Instagram user who shared this image during a tornado that struck Dayton, Ohio.

(Instagram photo/@dramatic_jellyfish)

A tornado left behind damage outside of a home in Brookville, Ohio, on Monday night.

(Instagram photo/@dramatic_jellyfish)

A tornado left behind damage outside of a home in Brookville, Ohio, on Monday night.

(Instagram photo/ @jordanlynnfreshour)

Instagram user captured the damage from the tornado that struck Dayton, Ohio, at Troy Pike north of Stanley on Tuesday morning.

(Instagram photo/Ellis Pilcher)

"Welp, I saw my first tornado last night," Instagram user Ellis Pilcher wrote in a post on Tuesday morning. "We are in Dayton and there were 6 tornadoes in Southern Ohio, one of them happened to come through our neighbourhood."

Twitter photo/@Niisonger)

The rubble of a destroyed church in Dayton, Ohio, is seen May 29, 2019.

(Twitter photo/@_dyt_replant)

Storm damage was visible throughout Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 28, after a destructive tornado trailed through the region on Monday night.

(Twitter photo/@_dyt_replant)

Storm damage was visible throughout Dayton, Ohio, on Tuesday, May 28, after a destructive tornado trailed through the region on Monday night.


Vandalia resident Francis Dutmers told The Associated Press that he and his wife rode out the storm in his basement, and heard a "very loud roar" when the twister moved through. He said windows were blown out in his home.

"I just got down on all fours and covered my head with my hands,” Dutmers told the AP.

The City of Dayton asked residents to conserve water, as power had been lost at both water plants and pump stations. The city also issued a boil water advisory for water customers in all of Dayton and Montgomery Counties, officials tweeted on Tuesday morning. The city set up water distribution centers at some Red Cross shelters and other locations. Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley shared on Twitter Wednesday morning an update of how many residents remain without water as crews work to restore services; the number currently stands at 60,000 people.

Residents living in a mobile home park in Northridge, a town just north of Dayton, told media on Tuesday they were informed that they may be living without electricity for a week. As of Wednesday evening, Dayton Power & Light had restored power to over 42,000 customers, which is over half of customers impacted, the company tweeted.

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City officials, including Mayor Whaley, gave an update on the tornado damage at a press conference at Dayton's City Hall early on Tuesday. "We have yet to find one fatality, and we have had three minor injuries," said Dayton's fire chief, Jeffrey Payne, at the conference. "I find that pretty miraculous, and I attribute much of that to the early notification to the public, and then the public heeding those warnings and getting shelter."

However, in Mercer County, where Celina is located, Mayor Jeffrey Hazel confirmed at a 9 a.m. press conference on Tuesday that one storm-related death occurred Monday night in the area after an 81-year-old man was killed after a car crashed through his home, where he was alone.

The victim was later identified as Melvin Dale Hannah, according to the AP.

Montgomery County Sheriff Rob Streck told WKEF-TV in Dayton that the storm damage is the worst he has seen in his career.

Some schools announced closures on Tuesday due to the storm damage, with many schools canceling the remainder of classes for the year, and some of them exempting students from final exams. Shelters have opened up throughout the area. The shelter that was set up at Trotwood High School is being relocated after the school lost power.

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More than 1,400 trees were down in Dayton as of Wednesday, blocking roadways, according to the Dayton Police Department. The Department of Public Works is working to clear the debris. Residents have been urged to stay off the roads, avoid venturing out into the affected area and allow first responders and crews to do their duties.

The tornado's path crossed directly over Interstate 75. The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) urged people to avoid the area north of downtown Dayton. There was so much scattered debris that snowplows were used to clear off the interstate.

"Our crews are assisting with debris cleanup from a tornado that hit about an hour ago," ODOT said on Twitter Tuesday morning. "Please give them and emergency crews room to work."

A forecaster from WYMT-TV listening to scanner traffic from the Dayton area reported that rescue crews are "scrambling to mobilize" and "damage sounds catastrophic." There were also reports of rescue crews going house to house looking for trapped residents.


Weather radar indicated debris was lofted tens of thousands of feet into the atmosphere, indicating that a strong and dangerous tornado was on the ground.

Less than 30 minutes after the large tornado swept through the Dayton metro area, yet another tornado-producing thunderstorm was targeting the same areas that were struck by the first tornado.

Several other tornadoes were reported in Ohio on Monday night, including in Celina, where numerous trees and power lines were downed.

Structural damage was reported to a house and barn in Laurelville around 1:10 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

In Beavercreek, the mayor declared a state of emergency, and many gas leaks were reported across the town after a tornado swept through.


Power outages affected over 80,000 customers across Ohio at one point early Tuesday morning. City of Dayton officials announced at an 11:30 a.m. press conference Tuesday that Dayton International Airport remains open for business, and the airport tweeted that passengers, staff and facilities were "safe and unharmed."

"We're in for a multi-day restoration effort," Dayton Power & Light said on Twitter.

The Dayton-based Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which was under a tornado warning for a time during the height of the severe weather, tweeted Tuesday morning that it is open and that personnel who are not injured or dealing with damages preventing them from working should report for duty at normal reporting times while being cautious and checking for any road closures.

In a 24-hour period, the NWS Storm Prediction Center recorded 66 tornado reports across eight states. In Ohio, the NWS will continue to conduct several storm surveys in areas including New Madison and Laura over the next few days to assess the damage. The NWS confirmed on Tuesday evening that an EF2 tornado hit Laurelville on Monday night.

Severe weather and tornado dangers will continue across parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey on Thursday.

Additional reporting by Jonathan Petramala.

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