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One week after deadly tornado, recovery is just beginning around Indian Lake

A house stands behind a pile of wooden debris.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
A house stands behind a pile of debris. It's one of many in the Indian Lake area that sustained serious damage after a tornado swept through on March 14.

Indian Lake is a summer vacation destination. The area, about an hour north of Dayton, was preparing to kick off the season by celebrating the total solar eclipse. But last Thursday, a different force of nature upended those plans.

A tornado, with winds up to 155 miles an hour, swept across the lake’s southern shore, killing three people, injuring dozens more and leaving behind a trail of destruction.

Some houses are unrecognizable, reduced to piles of plywood and jumbled household belongings — a rocking horse, a keyboard, a dining room chair.

One home is missing a roof, the bedroom inside visible from the street. A sign for Steve Austin’s car dealership lays toppled beside a line of vehicles with cracked windshields. A local ice cream parlor is tattered.

“We're going to drive by my Aunt Sandy's house and you can see, the garage is just gone. Like, you don’t have any clue where it’s at,” said Josh Shepard, on his way to deliver boxes of hot meals to first responders.

He pauses to detour around a closed road.

“Nothing really survived down here without taking damage.”

The tornado in Logan County was one of eight that touched down in Ohio last Thursday. Following the bout of severe weather, Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in 11 counties. In Logan County, he activated the Ohio National Guard.

Surviving the storm

Douglas Evans was in his trailer home when the tornado moved through. Everything got quiet, he remembered. Then, the storm descended.

“It sounded like 50 freight trains coming through,” he said. “I went to get up and it started to pick my trailer up. It ripped a side off and I saw my couch fall out.”

The trailer flipped over, and Evans was trapped under the furnace. He was rescued about 45 minutes later, he said. He’s okay now, but his home was destroyed.

“I just got to start all over again,” he said. “It's going to be hard, but I'll make it.”

While Evans’s story is particularly severe, everyone who lives on this side of the lake has a story about the storm.

Desteny Mackesy was huddled in the basement with her two-year-old when the storm hit.

“I’ve got some damage to our roof, a couple windows,” she said. Her husband’s car was smashed, and her family went without power for four days. “But some people got it a lot worse. You hate to see somebody suffering more than you.”

Recovering from this storm will take months, maybe years, locals say, and the work has just begun.

Coming together to clean up

Outside, dozens of volunteers sort through debris.

Others pass out free coffee and food.

Still more sort through piles of donations at the Indian Lake Community Church.

“We were getting so many donations and supplies that we brought in a 40-foot shipping container for storage,” said Pastor Jim Ellington.

The church’s gathering space is lined with folding tables covered in necessities: toothbrushes, laundry detergent, paper towels, blankets and batteries.

“People come in and we ask them exactly what their needs are,” Ellington said. “Then we give them a box, and they just go through the rows.”

Next door, the church transformed its youth center to a multi-agency resource space. Representatives from agencies like the Red Cross, Veterans Services, United Way and FEMA all man tables to help locals deal with the logistics of tornado recovery.

“If you lost your Social Security card and you don't know how to get a new one, they'll take care of it,” Ellington said. “It’s a one-stop shop.”

Outside, a mobile health clinic provides mental and physical health care. And down the street, a disaster relief agency offers laundry services and hot showers.

“When you see a disaster like this and think, “Where’s God in this?’ I looked at all these people working and serving, and the restaurants here that closed down to cook food to give to people, and all of those things — there you see God at work,” Ellington said.

Right now, momentum is strong. But he worries about what will happen when this support starts to dwindle — when the state of emergency lifts, the Ohio National Guard leaves and the donations dry up.

“My concern is this is not a short-term thing,” he said. “And we have so much support and help, which is great. But as time goes on, I know this will fade [from] people's memories outside of the area eventually, which is understandable. But that’ll be hard.”

Ways to help

United Way of Logan County has started a tornado relief fund to meet the immediate and long-term needs of the community.

So far, it’s raised upwards of $427,000. Right now, those funds are being used on roofing materials, generators, storage units and prescription medications.

The Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine will host a benefit concert for tornado victims on Thursday, March 21 from 6 to 10 p.m.

The Indian Lake Community Church is accepting and distributing supplies. Its biggest needs now include electric heaters, extension cords, surge protectors, batteries, dish soap, body wash and tarps.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.