Once again, tragedy from afar strikes a chord close to home

It has been nearly 28 years since a killer tornado swept through the Mahoning and Shenango valleys, but too many people here still know too well what the people of Moore, Okla., are suffering.

The devastation and the pain is fresh today in Oklahoma, but the sense of loss will linger for generations.

On May 31, 1985, tornados much like the F5 twister seen in Oklahoma swept through our area, killing 25 here and going on to kill 65 more on a path through Pennsylvania and into Ontario. A few days after our storms, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service told a Vindicator reporter, “You had an Oklahoma tornado in Ohio.”

The years soften but do not erase the memories.

Folks here know what their counterparts in Oklahoma can expect to see in the days to come.

Initially all the news reports are of death and destruction and loss, but in another day or two a second layer of stories emerges.

These are the stories about heros and heroism. The most dramatic one here was David Kostka, 36, of Farrell, who literally laid down his life for his 7-year-old niece and a 10-year-old boy, pushing them into a ditch and covering their bodies with his own until the winds tore him away and killed him. The children, dazed and battered, survived.

Heros by the score

And then will come a different kind of hero. They’ve already begun arriving, and they come from far and wide, a small army of volunteers who want nothing but to help. The week following the tornado here, for instance, 32 Boy Scouts, from Webelos to Explorers, and 11 adult leaders arrived from Michigan and spent the weekend doing whatever they were asked.

Within days, there are, of course, funerals, renewed pain and mourning for the 24 who died, including nine children. But there are also signs of rebuilding. New roofs will start going on almost overnight. Within a week, where there had only been a foundation, a new house will be framed.

And those who are suffering in Oklahoma will find that while some things are lost forever, decency survives. People return things found blocks or miles away: purses, wallets, documents, family Bibles.

And volunteers will man food lines as long as there are other volunteers who are clearing trees and debris and need to be fed.

Finally, donations will pour in from around the country, because, above all, this is a caring nation. Organizations such as the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army have experience responding to natural disasters and donations can be made through their Websites or local offices. Many church and social groups also provide established avenues for their members to contribute.

And some of those donations will be from people of the Mahoning Valley, because once you’ve been hit hard and helped back to your feet by complete strangers, you never forget.

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