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Neighbors Helping Neighbors Through Celina's Long Tornado Recovery

In Celina, gas service has been restored and power is expected to be up and running in most of the city again soon. But after Monday’s tornadoes that swept across the region, dozens of families remain homeless. And, while the damage in Celina is still being tallied, estimates show the cost of the recovery is likely to escalate into the millions of dollars.

Dozens of people were injured and one man was killed when winds from Monday night’s EF3 tornado tossed a vehicle into his home.

At least 40 families saw their homes destroyed.

Celina resident Jakob Wenning doesn’t have a basement. He says he watched the roof of his apartment lift in the air above him as he tried to hide from the storm.

"As soon as I went to look into the bathroom, the window blew out. Glass rained everywhere. This big chunk of wood come through our window glass," he says. "The whole ceiling sucked up, and we could see daylight, and then it came back down." 

Wenning is among the luckier ones. Wenning’s unit is torn open on one side, over the closet. It looks like a giant can-opener ran across it.

The apartments to the right of Wenning’s unit have their roofs ripped completely off.

In the parking lot, there’s an upside-down car. Another vehicle has all its windows blown out.

There’s a canoe in the street and a trampoline in a tree. Every half block or so, there are emergency maintenance vehicles. Power generators reverberate in the air.

Wenning’s girlfriend Marissa McNelly was at her mother’s house Monday night. She says she tried to drive home after the tornado, but couldn’t make it because of all the downed lines and trees.

Now, McNelly’s not sure where she and her baby will live.

"We got family and friends about to come out and help us move everything. We’re just trying to figure out how we’re going to stay in one place until we find a new place," she says.

Down the street a group of high school seniors is walking around with chainsaws, gas cans, and extension cords, helping their neighbors clear debris. This isn’t the first time these young men have cleaned up in the aftermath of a tornado.

They say they also helped clean up an area near a Walmart after a tornado two years ago, but Abdullah Davlatboyev says this one feels more personal.

"Corporate buildings, they can always rebuild those, but these--they have memories--childhood memories of growing up here, belongings, family heirlooms," he says. 'They got that sort of stuff in there."

One person who lost memories in the storm is Eric Rutledge. He lives in Michigan now and drove all night when he found out his elderly mother had survived the tornado by hiding in the basement of his childhood home.

Rutledge and some friends are pulling out furniture and boarding broken windows, seeing what they can salvage.

Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel, Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio First Lady address the media the morning after an EF3 tornado killed one resident and left 40 with uninhabitable homes.
Credit Jason Reynolds / WYSO
Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel, Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio First Lady address the media the morning after an EF3 tornado killed one resident and left 40 with uninhabitable homes.

"It’s kind of hard to take in," he says. "And then looking around and seeing all the other neighbors that you grew up with, and their houses are destroyed as well. So, it’s just unreal, to say the least."

Many residents say they're proud of the way Celina is pulling together to help people in need.

Craig Flack is the pastor at Celina First Church of God. The church is close to the worst of the damage, so it’s become a hub for collecting donations.

Flack has been driving a four-wheeled ATV through the wreckage delivering food and water to hundreds of civilians and first responders.

"We’ve had 18 million cases of water. We’ve got sandwiches, pizza. Pretty much every local business has been donating. So, a major outpouring. I wish it didn’t take a tornado to bring us all together, but it’s been great to see," Flack says. 

Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel says gas and electricity repairs are moving faster than originally anticipated. But, the mayor says the weight of all the destruction is finally starting to show in this usually picturesque town of around 10,000.

Hazel says he spent the day talking to people in the hardest-hit areas.

"The initial shock where people were saying, what do I do, where do I start?, has worn off and today the emotional part starts," Hazel says. "So, we have found people to be a little more tear-jerky if you will, realizing their loss. Of course, they're our neighbors, so we were able to commiserate with them a little bit. And they feel good because they see people that are helping them, and that's what they want today."

Hazel says many people in this small city about an hour north of Dayton are facing a long recovery. He says after a storm this big, they know getting back to normal is going to take awhile.

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