Walking the path of the Memorial Day storms: Invisible wounds remain after damage cleaned up

Six months after more than a dozen tornadoes stormed the Miami Valley on Memorial Day, Storm Center 7 Chief Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs and journalists from the Dayton Daily News walked the path of the storm, meeting its victims and learning their stories.

Monday starting at 5pm, Vrydaghs checks back in six months later, to mark the one year anniversary of the storms. She will investigate the challenges that have arisen around recovery due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

On May 27, an EF4 tornado destroyed 20 miles of the Miami Valley, starting in Brookville, before moving on to Trotwood and Harrison Twp. and then ending in North Dayton and Riverside.

>> Walking the Path of the Storm

Despite the destruction, the residents refuse to be defined by the storm and instead are known for the “Dayton Strong” spirit committed to a comeback.

Matthew Tepper, an Old North Dayton resident, said he remembers hearing the tornado pass multiple times that night as he and his wife took cover in their basement.

“You could clearly hear it and then it passed, then it started passing again,” he said. “So it was almost like two tornadoes.”

Around the corner, Barbara DelGrosso was hit by a stick after a branch smashed through her home.

Her car, like many others in the area, was destroyed in the tornado.

Some people, our team learned, even lost jobs due to car problems.

Half a year later, an aerial image shows much of the damage, including a grocery store demolished by the storm, still remains.

>> Harrison Twp. parks, Dixie strip, may never look the same after tornado

The search is still on for a solution to the food desert.

“I feel really bad for the people who lived there,” said John Scott, president of Blade Cutters Inc. “We do about 300 properties a year with the city contract, and we’re probably up to about 450 this year with the tornado.”

For Dayton alone, the EF4 tornado impacted 825 properties, including a 70,000 square foot warehouse.

On top of that, there’s the damage left behind from the other 14 tornadoes that hit the Miami Valley that night.

“A lot of the house were abandoned [and] will need to come down,” said Scott. “A lot of houses don’t have insurance.”

Tepper said some of the homes destroyed were rentals.

“[Landlords] may have insurance on their primary residence, but not on their rentals,” he explained.

>> Podcast: Where is the money donated for tornado relief going?

DelGrosso added that about 60 of her neighbors have left the area.

Our team found that FEMA only approved 11 percent of homeowners for assistance. Instead, community agencies provided residents the majority of the help — including in Riverside.

While weaker, the storm was still packing up to 110 mph winds. The Overlook Mutual Homes apartments would be some of the worst hit.

Darrel Connley considers himself incredibly.

His home was virtually untouched compared to his neighbors’ apartments.

“I didn’t go outside. I just went to the door. If I’d open the door, it would’ve sucked me completely out of the house,” he said.

One of Connley’s neighbors still has a piece of wood sticking into a gable. Another lost their entire roof.

Across the street and near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Steve Griffin was one of the many who heard Storm Center 7 Chief Meteorologist McCall Vrydaghs’ warning to get to safety.

>> At least 750 homes still empty in Trotwood after tornado

His fiance urged him to take cover with her in the bathroom.

“When we opened up the bathroom, it looked like a snow globe,” he said.

Six months later, the dirt, leaves and insulation that were floating through the air that night have been cleaned up.

But the recovery and rebuilding is only part of the residents’ stories.

Mentally, the storm has left its mark.

“It bothered me fore months because I felt bad. I didn’t protect her good enough,” said Griffin. “That we were in a situation that we could’ve both been killed.”

It’s one of many invisible wounds left behind for so many of our neighbors that are still struggling to rebuild after a life-changing storm.

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