Montgomery officials remember anniversary of April 9, 1999 Tornado
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - "Out of our emergency plan we had set in place, we were supposed to do a practice run in May and try out the plan. It just so happened we started in April for real," said Terry Willenbrink, Parks and Public Works Supervisor.
The Blue Ash, Montgomery, and Symmes Township F4 tornado of April 9, 1999, still stands as one of the deadliest on record in the Tri-State. 38-year-old Donna Lewis of Blanchester was killed on I-275 near Montgomery Road. 40-year-old and Blue Ash Bob Evans manager Charles Smith was killed on I-71 near Pfeiffer Road. Lee and Jacqueline Cook were also killed after being thrown from their home that morning. Their bodies were found in a field near Sycamore High School. The tornado was roughly 270 yards wide as it came through the residential community across from Sycamore High School.
Montgomery Fire Chief Paul Wright said, "The one thing that really impressed me was a gentleman I knew for many years. He had been in our department since the early 70s. He knew the community like the back of his hand. [That morning] I said, 'Bob, where exactly are you at?' You could hear him pause on the radio and say 'I'm not really sure. I can see Sycamore High School, so I must be on Cornell or Valleystream or Lakewater.' It just stuck with me that's a guy that knows the community so well, and even he's not sure where he's at based on the devastation."
The signs of damage 18 years after the tornado have been replaced with signs of growth. 90 percent of the trees at the Johnson Nature Preserve were destroyed. If you look carefully, you can see trees that began their life around the time of the tornado growing through the trees pushed over by the storm. There are also plants growing near the tornado's path that were not there prior to the tornado. The wind that night dispersed seeds through the air, and some of those turned to plants at the preserve. As the signs of growth grow taller and stronger, those who survived the April 9, 1999 tornado are thankful.
"I quite honestly was expecting more fatalities and as well as more devastating injuries. It was a shame that 4 people lost their life; however, it could have been a lot worse. We were lucky that it happened at 5:30 in the morning as opposed to 7:30 when the high school was in operation, we would have a lot more kids and students in that vicinity," said Wright.
Willenbrink said, "We have a mutual aid program where different cities would come out and help you, and it's amazing how many people were here the day of the tornado to start helping and how many people helped out throughout the next months and even into the year.