2017-07-12 / Front Page

Sunday Tornado Does $1.5 Million Damage In Pettisville; Lives Spared

25 Years After - July 12, 1992 Pettisville Tornado Revisited

Top left: Friends, neighbors, and strangers gave Pat Dougherty, extreme right standing inside his garage, a helping hand with garage cleanup, Monday night, July 13, 1992, after a tornado hit the Pettisville area. Top right: “Beyond repair” seems too mild an expression to describe this apartment. It was part of a 16-apartment complex devastated by the tornado. Bottom right: Andrew Garza stands in the backyard of his Pettisville home. This scene and two frightened, but unharmed children greeted him as he returned home Sunday evening, July 12, 1992.– photos from the Archbold Buckeye archives Top left: Friends, neighbors, and strangers gave Pat Dougherty, extreme right standing inside his garage, a helping hand with garage cleanup, Monday night, July 13, 1992, after a tornado hit the Pettisville area. Top right: “Beyond repair” seems too mild an expression to describe this apartment. It was part of a 16-apartment complex devastated by the tornado. Bottom right: Andrew Garza stands in the backyard of his Pettisville home. This scene and two frightened, but unharmed children greeted him as he returned home Sunday evening, July 12, 1992.– photos from the Archbold Buckeye archives (Editor’s Note: This article and photos are reprinted from the July 15, 1992 Archbold Buckeye. All are by Siegrid K. Richer.)

A tornado disaster defies description. Yet countless Pettisville-area residents were eyewitnesses to the worst catastrophe ever to strike their small town.

Within minutes, a quiet Sunday afternoon turned into a nightmare. A surprise tornado ripped through the north edge of Pettisville. It left 36 homes, buildings, and businesses damaged or destroyed along State Route 2 within a 2 1/2-miles trip.

Sunday, July 12, 1992, will be long remembered by a dazed community that started cleanup in earnest on Monday morning. Everyone had a tornado story, and many tried to put into words what their disbelieving eyes witnessed.

From Dave and Judy Bernath, rural Wauseon, who at 4:45 pm, Sunday, watched a dark cloud overhead on County Road F, east of State Route 66, go into twirling motion, to Pat Dougherty, a rural Archbold veterinarian, who had three seconds to take cover before the twister roared past, everyone had a story to tell.

There was Richard Nyce, on Co. Rd. 20 between St. Rt. 2 and Co. Rd. F, who saw parts of the Dougherty outbuilding twirl east, seconds before he witnessed the disintegration of the Guy Schroeder barn.

There were Orval and Esther Sauder, on the northwest corner of St. Rt. 2 and Co. Rd. 19, who clung to their basement doors while their backs were pelted with dishes, insulation and all sorts of debris while their home collapsed around them.

There was the Richard Rufenacht family, straight east of the Sauders, also on the north side of St. Rt. 2, who dove for cover while their garage, minivan and tool shed took a spin and trees crashed into their home.

From there, the destructive spiral skipped across the road and left a mile-long trail of disaster that ended at Co. Rd. 18 near the Delbert King home.

Within that worst mile, from Co. Rd. 19 to Co. Rd. 18, it leveled one home, several garages and sheds, an apartment complex, plus a hog and cattle barn on the Dean Smucker farm.

Doug Jackson’s pickup tangled with a tree and ended up on its side in front of the severely damaged home. Doug Jackson’s pickup tangled with a tree and ended up on its side in front of the severely damaged home. It severely damaged at least four additional homes and left comparatively minor damage to another eight homes or storage sheds.

At 4:52 pm, when the Archbold sirens sounded, the nightmare was already over for most of the 36 Pettisville area families that were touched by the twister.

Numb from shock, they faced their damaged or destroyed homes and businesses.

A tornado trail stretched for 2 1/2 miles along St. Rt. 2.

First it touched down on the north side east of Co. Rd. 21, raced past Co. Rd. 19, then veered across the road, witnessed by Richard Rufenacht.

Once on the south side of St. Rt. 2, it raged in a continuous pattern until it lifted off near Co. Rd. 18.

Official Damage

Officially, a total of 24 buildings were affected by the tornado, said John Richards, director of the Fulton County Emergency Management Agency, on Monday morning.

Total damage was estimated at $1.5 million.

Of those 24 buildings, eight were apartment units that housed two families each.

That left 16 individuals or families homeless.

The official count also included three businesses– Das Essen Haus, the Country Paint Store, and Pondview Veterinary Clinic– plus two farms and 11 homes.

In addition, there was damage to three properties beyond the Smucker farm. These were not part of the official count, nor was the damage to a small shed on the Rodney Nofziger property.

Richards confirmed an official 4:50 pm touchdown.

He also said, “If a concerned citizen sights a funnel cloud, it’s not official. It must be sighted by a member of the fire department or law enforcement.”

Once the tornado was declared official, Richards said, “We had three departments respond with ambulances: Archbold, Wauseon, and Fayette.”

Two fire departments, he added, Archbold and Wauseon, stayed on the scene until after midnight.

Sheriff’s deputies have been stationed at the scene around the clock, said a spokeswoman for the Fulton County Sheriff’s Department on Tuesday morning.

No looting has been reported.

These departments were assisted by members of the Fulton County Highway Department; the Ohio Department of Transportation, Wauseon district; and volunteers with the Fulton County Emergency Management Agency.

While there were no fatalities, Richards said five people were treated and released at the Fulton County Health Center.

A disaster command post was set up at Das Essen Haus by Sunday evening, and cleanup efforts headed by the Fulton County Mennonite Disaster Service team went into full swing by 6:30 am, Monday morning.

By Monday noon, representatives from the National Weather Service at Toledo had assessed the damage and declared it a tornado disaster.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency had okayed the burning of debris in open fields, and Fulton County Commissioners had authorized containers through Archbold Refuse Service to haul non-burnable materials.

“From the damage we surveyed,” said Patrick Murphy of the National Weather Service, Toledo, “we’d say it was two miles in length.

“The movement was erratic and it appears a general northwest to southeast pattern.

“Whether or not it was continuous, we can’t say unless we walk it or fly across. And yes, it was a tornado.”

By Monday afternoon, the Fulton County Commissioners had declared German and Clinton townships disaster areas, the first step in the process of getting federal disaster aid.

Lowell Rupp, a commissioner, said that Richards would forward the necessary paperwork to Columbus.

At presstime, state officials were planning to fly via helicopter into Pettisville at about 5:30 pm, Tuesday, weather permitting.

By nightfall Monday, representatives of the Fulton County Department of Human Services had assessed needs.

Dale Britsch and Ed Leininger started a disaster fund for Pettisville tornado victims and placed it under the auspices of Pettisville United Fund.

Financial donations can be made to that agency at PO Box 59, Pettisville, Ohio 43553. Request for assistance should be directed to either the Department of Human Services at 337-0010, or Terry King and Skip Leupp, Pettisville United Fund.

Over 200 Volunteers

Cleanup activities continued all day Monday. At 6:30 a.m., the first volunteers arrived on the scene.

Trucks hauled debris, volunteers combed the fields for everything from barn siding to tree branches, and chainsaws buzzed all day long.

“These chainsaws are music to our ears,” said Elaine Gerken, Defiance, daughter of Wilma and Ralph Rupp, Pettisville, as she and other family members cleared debris from their lawn Monday.

“We thought, ‘Where do we start? Who do we ask?’

“But we didn’t have to. They just came.”

At 10:15 am, the volunteer count had reached 190 and continued to climb, said Randy Short, Fulton County MDS coordinator.

Headquarters for these volunteers were set up at West Clinton Mennonite Church.

Crews were bused for meals between the church with Pettisville school buses.

“It takes a lot of people to make this work,” said Short. “I’m not the only one organizing crews.”

Already Sunday night, he added, some crews went out to assist putting up tarps to protect roofless homes from downpours.

“At this time,” Short said Monday morning, “we’re basically picking up debris.”

Volunteers also cut branches, cleared corn and soybeans fields and helped salvage clothes and furniture.

In the future, said Jim

Roynon, volunteer worker and pastor at West Clinton, MDS efforts will include repair work and possibly new construction.

Besides volunteer workers, Toledo Edison crews arrived on the scene Sunday night and were still working as of Tuesday morning.

St. Rt. 2 remained closed between Co. Rds. 18 and 19, and limited traffic was permitted between Co. Rds. 19 and 20.

Tornado Tales

Each victim had a tornado tale.

Some, like Dean Smucker and Richard Rufenacht, heard the roar and saw the storm.

Others returned to find their homes destroyed.

The Vernon Grabers, the Virgil Augustines, and the Ralph Rupps were gone.

They found their homes nearly unharmed, but sheds destroyed, garages damaged, and patio furniture scattered about.

Their neighbors, Brandon Schnitkey and his mother, Melanie Rogers, were at home. With them, said Schnitkey, were a boyfriend, an aunt, and a baby.

“We heard a rumbling,” said the Pettisville High School freshman.

“My aunt looked out and saw stuff flying, my mom saw the fence go, and I tried to get my dog in, but he wouldn’t come.”

Seconds later, Schnitkey dived for the basement. When he came back up, he met a dazed dog at the back door.

“He was still out here,” said an equally dazed Schnitkey.

As his voice faltered, his friend Sean Rossman added, “And he didn’t have a scratch.”

After being prompted by Rossman, Schnitkey said, “My mom had a crock pot full of beans in the kitchen. We found the beans in the bathroom. They had to fly around the corner, because the wall is still standing.”

As of Monday noon, his mother had found the lid to her crock pot at another location.

The pot itself remained missing.

The story of the bean pot wasn’t the only strange tale.

Richard and Darlene Rufenacht and their children found their home damaged and their backyard rearranged.

Besides a roof ruined by the twister and falling trees, a tool shed was lifted off its foundation.

Their van landed next to the garage foundation on top of the collapsed garage.

“It was around 4:45 pm Sunday evening,” Rufenacht said. “I was on my way to the barn getting ready to milk.

“A couple of the kids were playing outside when my wife called me.”

Everyone found cover, but before Rufenacht headed for safety he saw flying trash head straight for his farmstead, and he heard the crackling sound of wood splintering.

“Then it turned,” he added, “and headed across the road.”

By this time it already carried with it fragments from the homes of Orval Sauder, Stephen Brannan, Guy Schroeder, and Pat Dougherty.

It was a black mess of swirling debris.

“We were the first hit, the first touchdown,” said Dougherty on Monday afternoon.

“It started here and stayed down. I saw the Schroeder roof go, saw it go east through the woods toward Pettisville.”

His own property damage was estimated at between $70,000 and $80,000.

But that was the least of his worries.

With only seconds’ warning, it felt good to just be alive.

“I had stepped out on the porch to take a look, since the weather felt strange,” Dougherty said.

“I wasn’t too worried, since I hadn’t heard a warning.”

As he peeked around the corner, Dougherty said, he saw winds from the east whipping the beans behind his house westward meeting winds from the west.

“I had three seconds,” he said, “from the time I saw a wall of leaves swirling in circular motion even with the clinic, ran into the house, grabbed Matthew, yelled at my wife and raced downstairs.

“It’s funny how much you can do in three seconds.”

Five to six seconds later, he heard a thud, decided the twister was passed, and 30 seconds later, headed upstairs again.

He found his garage yanked off its foundation, doors torn off, damage to the clinic, the building between the clinic and his home leveled, but the house itself pretty well intact.

“It was cool, not scary,” he said. “There was no time to be afraid.

“Later, we sat in the front yard and watched it move on. We just had a good hug when we heard the Archbold siren.”

Home Alone

Andrew Garza’s children, 14-year-old Bonny and 7-yearold Andrew, were home alone.

Both were scared, but safe, when their father found them after the twister had moved on.

They were staying with relatives and couldn’t be reached by presstime.

Phil Rychener, who lives south of the disaster mile and was among the cleanup crew Monday, watched the destruction.

He had been alerted by strange sounds like a freight train heading toward his home.

“My wife Elaine came running, screaming,” he said, “then we both saw debris flying. That’s when I got nervous.”

As he talked, he walked around the flattened apartment buildings owned by his brother-in-law and sister, Delbert and Jane King, Pettisville.

“Can you believe there were eight people in this one,” he said, as he motioned toward a heap of rubble beneath caved-in walls.

Two of the eight apartment buildings had walls standing straight. Most other walls had either collapsed or were being pushed down.

“We have no damage estimate yet,” said Jane King, Monday afternoon. “We’re still waiting on insurance adjusters. They knocked down some hazardous walls; the rest will have to wait for them to look at.”

King and her family were headed home from Wauseon when they spotted the tornado in the sky.

It was almost two years to the day, King said, that her home had been destroyed by arson.

“We saw the funnel coming straight east,” she said.

“It had four fingers and we watched them form into one.”

King isn’t sure of the time. She was too mesmerized, she said, to check her watch.

A Flying Window

Raymond Leith, who lives in apartment 15, was sorting through the debris in his living room Monday. He was home when the tornado struck.

“I forget the time,” he said. “I had just turned off the television. I don’t even remember what show I watched.

“I looked out the window and I saw that double-axle trailer over there being picked up, lifted into the air and slammed back down. I ran through that door in the hallway and I saw a window flying by.”

That’s when he dropped to the floor and covered his head with his hands.

“And I screamed to the Lord,” he added quietly as he surveyed the rubble that was his apartment once.

Although Dean Smucker, east of the apartment complex, didn’t scream, he faced some anxious moments.

At home with his wife, two young children, a daughter with a small child and her boyfriend, Smucker feared for everyone’s safety.

“I had stepped out,” said the Pettisville farmer, “to see if we’d get some rain out of this. I saw some black clouds, but my view was obstructed by those 50-/60-foot tall trees.

“I couldn’t really see anything,” he said, “but I heard a roar like a train.”

He had already sent his family to the basement when he saw debris circle high above the trees. That’s when he headed for shelter.

While in the basement, Smucker heard a loud crack, thought his house exploded, but later found that it was the chimney that tumbled onto the garage roof.

Smucker saw his hog barn flattened on top of the 150 head of hogs.

Of his free-stall dairy barn, the stalls were left standing free without a building. Roof and walls were gone.

As of Monday morning, he said, his cattle were fine. There were two dead hogs, some injured and butchered, the rest alive, he hoped.

No one had actually counted heads for animals, only people.

And the people were all accounted for. Except for five people with minor injuries, no one was seriously hurt.

Orval Sauder was one of the people who went to FCHC to be treated and released. Neither he nor his wife Esther ever made it to the basement.

Esther Sauder stepped out a damaged backyard shed Monday night to tell her story.

Standing next to the bare foundation, now scrubbed clean by volunteers, many from her own Central Mennonite congregation, she looked down at a crumbled wooden cradle.

“This cradle rocked my grandchild the Sunday before,” she said thoughtfully, “my grandchild from Wichita, Kan.

“I’m so glad they were home and not here.”

Sauder had the television on Sunday evening and knew there were thunderstorm warnings.

It was after 4:30 pm when she looked out east and decided things didn’t look too bad.

“I still can’t believe I only looked east,” she said Monday evening.

“It was a bit windy, so I closed the door. That’s when I heard a sound like a train and I ran toward the basement door.

“We have two doors into the hallway to the basement,” she added– one on her side, the other opposite, coming in from the paint store.

That is the door to which her husband clung, unable to force it open.

“I pulled,” Sauder said, “but it wouldn’t open. Then everything flew all over– glass, insulation.

“I just hung on to the door, heard wood banging around, my cupboard came my way, dishes started flying. I felt them on my back.

“In seconds it was over.

“There was a tree in my living room and the siding from Brannan’s home was in my bedroom.

“My hair was full of tiny bits of tree branches and I peeked around the corner and saw my husband covered in insulation and blood.

“There was this little path and we got out on the south side. We didn’t even have shoes on, we were just relaxing.

“When we got outside the paint cans were still lined up on the shelves, but not much else was left.

“We found a few things, some pictures,” she said.

Then, with a deep sigh, she echoed the thoughts of many neighbors.

“We have each other,” she said.

“We don’t have anything else, but we still have each other.”

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