TRUMBULL COUNTY Bad weather brings bad memories



No order was given to activate Newton Falls' emergency siren.
By ED RUNYAN
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
NEWTON FALLS -- Reports of funnel clouds moving southeast from Ravenna toward Newton Falls had some Valley residents seeing eerie similarities between what was happening Tuesday evening and the tornadoes of 1985.
Could a tornado the likes of May 31, 1985 -- which caused devastation in Newton Falls, Niles and more -- strike again?
The National Weather Service issued tornado warnings for Portage and Trumbull counties starting around 9 p.m. because of tornado sightings in areas such as Hiram, Windham and Lordstown. The slow-moving storm didn't cause any Trumbull County damage, but Portage County officials said a low-power tornado occurred in Deerfield Township, damaging a barn.
For a time in Newton Falls -- where thousands had gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July and attend the city's annual festival -- the threat caused a real stir.
Kept in touch
City Manager David Watson said he stayed in contact throughout the evening with the city's appointed storm spotters, who watched the storm from their perches around the city. They informed him that the storm had gone around the city, and no tornadoes were present. No order was given to activate the city's emergency siren, he said.
Though many people in town for the festival and fireworks were warned to leave the city park because of tornado warnings, Watson said he is not aware that such warnings were given by city employees.
About 10 p.m., when the fireworks were to be lighted, the Fourth of July committee decided to go ahead -- despite there being relatively few people left in town to watch them, he said.
Though Watson said he wasn't here in 1985, he could see that some people were fearful. One man and his wife sought the safety of the town's community center and remained there long after the threat had passed, he said.
Officials from Trumbull County 911 in Howland, which receives calls for part of the county, had received no reports of damage. Newton Falls and Lordstown dispatch centers also reported no damage.
Cancellations
Fireworks in Warren were to be Wednesday night after they were canceled Tuesday because of the severe weather. Christopher Stephenson, Packard Music Hall manager, Warren Mayor Michael J. O'Brien and fire officials made the decision jointly.
"It would have been easier to have the fireworks, but at some point, you've got to make the call," Stephenson said. "We'd rather be safe and make sure our guests are safe," he said.
Earlier, the concert by the W.D. Packard Concert Band had been moved inside because of rain, Stephenson said. Packard officials informed audience of the tornado warning during the concert, but most opted to stay, he said.
Officials then informed those waiting outside for the fireworks and urged them to seek shelter. Most people opted to seek shelter inside the hall, Stephenson said. There were about 2,400 people at the concert with hundreds more waiting for the fireworks outside, Stephenson said.
"We had a full house," he said.
Sirens
Karen Davies, interim 911 director, said the tornado warnings caused the 20 alert sirens around the county to go off. Whenever a tornado warning is issued anywhere in the county, all of the sirens are activated, she said.
Two of the sirens are not operational, she pointed out. Those in Gustavus and Vernon need to be repaired, she said, saying one of them got hit by something several months ago and its repair is tied up in an insurance claim. She didn't know what was wrong with the other one.
The siren in Southington Township was recently repaired, Davies said.
Cortland Mayor Curt Moll watched the weather reports with special interest and kept his cell phone handy. As executive board chairman of the county's Emergency Management Agency, Moll was in charge because EMA Director Linda Beil is on sick leave.
Rebecca Whitman, EMA office administrator, said Beil will be back Monday from two weeks off for minor surgery.
Moll said if the 911 center would have called him to indicate tornado damage, he would have been ready to follow the procedures called for in the EMA disaster plan, and he would have called upon Whitman and the county's other emergency officials for assistance.
In such situations, the EMA determines whether special equipment is needed and coordinates cooperation among various emergency departments, Moll said.
Davies said the sound of sirens, reports of tornadoes and calm of the air had her concerned.
"We were hunkered down for the stuff to start happening," she said. "The way things were happening just gave me the creeps."
XContributor: Amanda Garrett, Vindicator Trumbull staff.

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