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Recalling The 'Long Night' And Aftermath Of The 2019 Trotwood Tornado

FEMA inspectors conduct damage assessments in Trotwood, where several large apartment complexes were destroyed in the tornadoes.
Jess Mador
FEMA inspectors conduct damage assessments in Trotwood, where several large apartment complexes were destroyed in the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes.

As WYSO remembers the 2019 Memorial Day tornado disaster, we've been speaking with Daytonians whose lives were forever changed by the storm. In this story, we hear from Norman Scearce. The Trotwood pastor and his Gateway Cathedral church helped coordinate recovery efforts in the hard-hit Trotwood area.

After surviving the tornado by sheltering in the bathroom with his family, Scearce ventured into the neighborhood and headed for his church to inspect the damage.

What follows is a transcript of the interview, edited for length and clarity:

Mador: Describe that walk from home to the church that night.

Scearce: Oh, it was pitch black. You couldn't see anything. It was so dark. There was no type of ambient light, with the exception of the lights from the fire trucks and ambulances. There was nothing. Fortunately, I had enough battery life and I used the flashlight on my phone to guide my way through the neighborhood and to the church. I literally expected it to be gone because it's so high up in the air and, fortunately, the Lord allowed it to remain intact. The windows and things were blown in, parts of the roof were removed by the storm but nothing that is irreparable.

Scearce: There were three hats we had on that night. I was husband and father, pastor and a school-board member. And I often say as a church, it's in times like these, either your relevancy is cemented or disproved. The church was used as a hub or parking lot for school buses taking people to shelters that night at 1:00 in the morning, 2:00 in the morning, just making runs back and forth to the high school, back and forth and back and forth. The school was one of the only places in Trotwood that had power because of the backup generators. And so I was on buses making sure people were getting from the pickup site to the shelter site. The Red Cross was there making sure people could get in contact in some way with their family members, making sure they were safe. And so for me and many others, it was a very, very long night. And so I went home at maybe 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. that morning and I went to sleep for about an hour or so, got back up and we started our cleanup efforts.

Tornado damage to the exterior of the church building.
Credit Gateway Cathedral
Tornado damage to the exterior of the church building.

Scearce: You know, seeing it in the darkness of night is one thing. You can't really make heads or tails of how bad the damage is. Oh, but when the sun rises, it was -- it was like someone dropped a bomb in the neighborhood. It was decimated. There were trees literally in houses, the tops of houses just hanging off the sides of themselves. Cars knocked over, trees on cars. It was crazy. It was crazy. Furniture and lawnmowers all in the middle of the street. It was ridiculous. It was crazy. It was crazy.

Mador: What were the next few days and even weeks like then?

Scearce: The next couple of days were just like, oh my God, where do we start? What is the first thing that you do? We were, I guess, kind of like ground zero for a lot of the assistance that was coming into the community. There were literally thousands of people, volunteers that were on our grounds there at the church, just being kind of dispensed into our community, helping people with debris removal, tree removal, food, water.

Scearce: It was a beautiful, beautiful sight. It was a moment I'll never forget. I'll never forget it.