Twister spent its wrath on big trees



The old, pre-1940s homes survived despite winds reaching 100 mph.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It's hard to figure that the focal point in the aftermath of a tornado would be the trees.
But amazingly -- and thankfully -- that's the biggest fallout from Monday's funnel cloud that powered through the East Side.
Besides some peeled-away roof shingles and siding, homes and the 3,000-some residents in the Himrod Avenue-Shehy Street vicinity escaped unscathed. Authorities didn't report any serious injuries.
The trees took the brunt of the funnel, which the National Weather Service said whipped winds at 75 to 110 mph and was 50 to 100 yards wide.
Trees so big that two people together couldn't close their arms around them were draped across numerous streets and yards. Now you can count the rings in those severed trunks that show the many decades of weather that the tall trees survived, until Monday.
Age of homes
Residents expected more damage to their homes, for good reason. Nearly 70 percent of the homes were built before 1940, according to the 2000 Census. The rest are 40 or 50 years old.
A three-foot slope next door saved the house at 38 Pearl St., said Alex Fonteboa. He was looking out the door of the house, owned by a relative, when he saw the twister up close.
The tornado -- "It was definitely a funnel," Fonteboa said -- was headed right for the house. It hit the slope and spun away, moving across the street to destroy a maple tree as it passed through the neighborhood.
Nearby trees big and small showed the twister's telltale sign: sheared off in the middle.
"I can't believe it took that pine right off. Just tossed it," Fonteboa said, pointing to a tall evergreen missing its top.
Louis Montero of 95 N. Truesdale Ave. watched the tornado come right at his house too.
"It came up over the hill and kept going and turned left on Loveless," he said. "It's unpredictable. That's Mother Nature."
The wind threw a neighbor's bicycle from the front yard to the back, but his and other homes remained unharmed.
Reason for surprise
James Wilkinson Jr. of 20 S. Bruce St. came home from a medical appointment to find his house intact but his 80-foot tall maple tree covering the lot next door and jutting into the street.
Wilkinson has lived on the East Side 56 years and couldn't believe what he was seeing. His first words when he arrived home: "What the hell's going on?"
Many longtime residents -- more than half in the neighborhood have lived there at least 25 years, according to the Census -- felt the same way.
"I never believed this could happen in Youngstown. Most of the bad weather bypasses us," said Frank Dodd of 38 N. Truesdale.
Thirty seconds of wind felled a big maple tree on one side, an evergreen slumped over his front walkway and a section of his porch banister blew off.
"Maybe the trees saved the houses," Dodd said.
The power awed Councilman Rufus Hudson, D-2nd, who represents the East Side, when he surveyed the damage Monday evening.
"The houses got missed. It was miraculous to me," he said. "God truly had his hand on those people's houses."
William Duckworth, of 568 Loveless Ave., was working at a nearby CVS store when the roof heaved and water came in. "We just thought it was a bad wind," he said.
He raced home to find what looked like a film set.
"It was just horrible," Duckworth said, as he hauled limbs out of his mother's back yard. "I thought it was a movie. Something you see in a movie."
Keith Stuart of 1422 Himrod couldn't see out the door when the storm plowed through.
"It was like a whiteout, almost like snow was coming down fast," he said. "It's just 'Wow!' What's going on?"
A day later, all but sections of a few streets were open. City workers and utility crews worked all night to clear the roads and restore power.
Aftermath
Only the biggest downed trees still posed a problem.
The storm continued between Shehy Street and Himrod Avenue, the populated area, before moving and petering out in the more rural Sharon Line neighborhood.
The funnel first touched down around 1:20 p.m. between Gibson Street and Poland Avenue before it jumped over the Mahoning River and hit the neighborhood.
Businesses in that area sustained the true building damage. Estimates will exceed $1 million, officials say.
John Thompson, owner of Omega Door, experienced tornados while living in Missouri. He still can't figure out how a 100-foot section of braced cinderblock wall collapsed, pulling out sections of garage door panels with it.
"I figured it was indestructible," he said as workers boarded up the hole.
Gary Slovinsky, a high-lift operator at City Asphalt and Paving located behind Omega door, was eating lunch in a building 50 feet away.
"I heard a noise and said 'Holy ----, the building fell down,'" he said.
rgsmith@vindy.com

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