History of the West Park Neighborhood

Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

Tornado of 8 June 1953
The West Park Area

"June 8, 1953. Many Ohioans remember the devastating tornado that rampaged through Wood, Sandusky, Erie, Lorain, and Cuyahoga Counties between 7 and 10 PM on this day. The twister left 17 dead and approximately 400 injured in its path. Numerous reports of hail up to one and one-half inches in diameter were received. The storm resulted in $13,410,00 in crop damage and $#19,320,000 in property damage. Major property damage was in the Cleveland area."

"Summary of Ohio Tornadoes," by Marvin E. Miller, Meteorologist in Charge, ESSA Weather Bureau Office/State Climatologist, Columbus, Ohio. The Ohio Journal of Science 69 (6): 343, November, 1969.

Snapshots of damage

The West Park area

Summerland Avenue
    Courtesy of Christine Michalko Shermak

West 95th area near Lorain & Denison Avenues
    Courtesy Dolores Cannon Klafta

Almira Avenue

The West 140th Street area
     Courtesy David Shepley


Memories of the storm in the West Park area   Memories of the storm in adjacent and nearby areas

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THANKS to the SUN NEWS for running an article that appeared in various local Sun newspapers concerning a section on this website.  The 12 June 2008 edition carried a front page article about the 1953 tornado that struck the area and an associated item concerning memories of that 1953 tornado.  A statement in the article gives the impression that the West Park History website was created "to document the devastation on the Internet with old black-and-white photos and personal narratives."  This is incorrect because the website was created as "an informal site concerning the history of the area and to share personal memories of the neighborhood."  The material on the tornado is a  later addition and never was the impetus for the site which focuses on the overall history of the West Park area not just the tornado.

 The killer twister was first sighted at 9:45 at the northern edge of Cleveland Hopkins airport on the night of Monday, June 8th, 1953. From there it tore through west side neighborhoods on a northeast path, crossed the Cuyahoga River near the Detroit-Superior Bridge, ripped up part of downtown Cleveland, and finally moved out over Lake Erie at East 40th Street. In 27 minutes the swirling black funnel had killed 9 people, injured over 200, and destroyed or damaged nearly 2000 homes.

Emergency rooms at local hospitals were jammed with those suffering cuts, broken bones, and serious injuries. Power outages forced doctors and nurses to work by flashlight. Rescuers struggled to get into the stricken areas. National Guard patrols were brought in to protect private property and keep onlookers out. It would take a week to clear streets clogged by downed trees, utility poles, and debris, and months to repair the millions of dollars in property damages.

 The biggest loss of life took place on West 28th near Franklin Avenue where five people died in the collapse of a single house but the southeast corner of West Park suffered the greatest sheer destruction. The area from West 130th to West 117th, bounded by Linnet Avenue on the north and Matherson Avenue on the south, was particularly hard hit. At least twenty homes were completely destroyed leaving only piles of splintered lumber scattered across a desolate landscape. Almost every home suffered damage of some kind and backyards looked like war zones.

The experience of Cy and Ethel Field of Mortimer Avenue was typical. "It lasted only one horrifying minute," Mr. Field told a local newspaper. "We came out of the basement and our house was gone." On nearby Worthington Avenue a bathtub crashed through the bedroom widow of Mr. and Mrs. Anton Thomas at the height of the storm.

 Incredibly only 8 people were killed by the tornado, 9 if you count one death by heart attack. Perhaps saddest was the case of little Daniel Balint, only 3 ˝ months old, whose father rushed to save him as their home disintegrated around them.

 "I rushed to Danny's crib. I had my hands on it and was touching it," a grieving Louis Balint told reporters from his hospital bed. "Then it hit. The wind tore the baby right out of my hands. Next thing I knew I was under timbers in the back yard." Hours later neighbors found the child's body five doors away.

 The physical scars the storm left on the city are mostly gone now. Homes have been rebuilt, trees have grown back, and modern freeways have changed the landscape. The memories, however of those that lived through the twister or saw the devastation it left behind, are as vivid as ever.

The following are accounts of Clevelanders who have personal recollections of the Tornado of 1953.

Memories and/or photographs that you wish to contribute would be appreciated.  Please try to include as many details as you possibly can.

Send them to the West Park History website.

Memories of Residents --- West Park area

Maria (Krasznai) Krusienky, Parma, OH.  30 July 2009

"On June 8th, 1953 I was seven years old and living at 12612 Matherson Avenue. Boy, do I remember that night! My family came home that evening from purchasing my father's first car. We sat in the living room and my two younger sisters (5 and 3 years old) and I were standing by the window, pressing sheets of paper against the glass and tracing the streaks of lightening with a crayon. My mother got nervous we were so close to the windows and asked us to sit on the couch with her.

"Suddenly my father said, "We better go to the basement!" My dad led the way. My mom was last on the stairs. The tornado went past our house as we were on the stairway and I think our footsteps drowned out the shattering of the windows we had been standing by only a few moments earlier - not to mention the glass shards covering the couch!

"My mom said she felt something "pull her" from above and we later learned it was at the exact spot where a large rectangular piece of the houses siding had been ripped out by the storm.

"We had been in the basement a very short time when my dad looked out the window and said, "I don't think the house next door is there anymore." I remember my mother telling him that was a very bad joke and he should not upset us. He told her he wasn't joking and that he was going out to see since an elderly couple lived there. (Julius and Paula Fischer at 12616 Matherson Avenue.) My mom, of course, asked him not to go out in the storm but he said he had to.

"After what seemed like forever my dad and the lady from next door came down the basement stairs. She was wearing a bathrobe, crying and bleeding – she was a very scary sight! She didn't know where her husband was. They had been getting ready for bed when the storm got ominous. They were on their way to the basement when the house around them blew apart. She fell through the broken floor boards to the basement where my father found her but her husband wasn't there.

"My dad went out again to look for him while my mother tried to console the poor lady. My dad finally found the husband. The wind had picked him up and dropped him in the street close to a new house that had just been built across from them, which was also now in the street, so he had crawled in there for shelter. He too was bleeding somewhere on his head.

"On my dad's next trip out he came back with our two pet rabbits which were kept in a pen in what had been our garage. He said they were huddled together on the now completely bare cement floor. One of the two died shortly thereafter.

"It was awhile before we were allowed to come up from the basement. The house next door was indeed gone. All that remained was part of the first floor. The house on the other side of them was a ranch house, only half of it still standing. No one had a garage and thank goodness we hadn't brought the new car home yet.

"The very large trees which had lined our street were uprooted and power lines were snapping. The Red Cross came and I think they took care of getting the old couple from next door to the hospital. The part that was the strangest for me were the "gawkers" who came (on foot) to look at the damaged area like we were on display! It was surreal.

"The next day there was a picture in one of the daily newspapers, either The Cleveland News or the Cleveland Press, of three little girls, wearing identical dresses, standing among the debris and tree branches - that was me and my sisters. We had a copy of the photo but somehow misplaced it over the years.

"After that night my father built a "tornado shelter" by digging a space through the basement wall, lined with cinder blocks and bolted together like the outline of a very small house. We spent countless hours in that shelter every time there was a storm. When the storms were strong, we prayed the rosary."

Tony Mittelo, Strongsville, OH.  8 February 2009

"At the time of the tornado my family lived on St. John Avenue off Bellaire and West 117th Street. We had a lot of damage to our house. We hid under the couch when the storm hit. Most of the houses on our street were destroyed or badly damaged. This was a fairly new development of small bungalows and there were not a whole lot of houses there then. My wife's family lived on the east side during the tornado and they had hail as big as golf balls. She and her siblings were home alone at the time. She remembers her mother calling home, warning them to take cover and stay away from the windows, and promising to get home as soon as it was safe."

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Carol Ritchey Polacek, OH.  4 September 2008

"When I was in high school my girlfriend Joan Krutek and I would go roller skating every weekend at Puritas Springs Park. We were skating the night of the tornado but someone said it was just a rumor. When it was time to go home, no one was there to pick us up and just about everyone else had left. It was kind of scary to say the least. Finally Ron Arhar, Joan's boyfriend and future husband, showed up. He took Joan home and tried to get me home but was unable to get to West 135th where I lived. He let me out on Lorain and I walked home through downed trees and wires, and whatever else was in the way. Talk about doing stupid things!  I never gave a thought to power lines being alive but I made it home OK. There was only minor damage to our house. But two houses up on the other side of the street, a house had been lifted of its foundation and leaned against the house just north of it."

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Linda-Rae Hoge, Fort Lauderdale, FL.  24 June 2008

"In 1953 we lived at 12505 Worthington Avenue in Cleveland. In addition to me my family included my parents, Ray and Wilma Kellogg, my sister Jeri-Lynn, and my brother Frank, who we called "Bud."

I remember the day of the tornado. I went to Jefferson Park that afternoon and it was very windy and overcast. There was almost a yellow cast over everything. I remember it being very oppressive.

That evening my dad went to work at Ward’s Gas Station on West 130th. The storm started and my sister, my brother (and me too) got into bed with my mother. We were petrified! I remember the front screen door banging and my mom was going to close it, so we all trailed after her holding hands so she wouldn’t get blown away.

Then the hail started, it sounded like 1,000 horses on the roof! My mom then decided it was time to hit the basement. We got down there and huddled on the couch, with my mom praying. My mom asked me to get some candles that were on the other side of the basement by the furnace, not to mention the spider webs. I went over there, with no flashlight mind you, and heard this “wooo-wooo” sound. I thought the furnace was going to blow up and ran back to my mom. We heard thumping and bumping and then quiet.

The next thing I remember is my dad coming down the stairs with a flashlight. I don’t think I saw my mom and dad hug each other so much as that night. He said he was coming up West 128th and the entire car was in the air! The wheels were turning but he wasn’t going anyplace. Fortunately for us, the tornado came at an angle down our street, high on our side and low farther on down, so our house just had minor damage and about one-quarter of a maple tree in the backyard was broken off.

After the storm, everyone was outside checking damage. Toward the end of the street, close to West 117th, a house was blown off the foundation and another house had the living room walls torn off. Everyone was told more storms were on the way and to get back in the house, but thank goodness that did not happen. I remember for about a week or two after the storm the National Guard had our whole neighborhood blocked off.

On Brooklawn Avenue behind our house, where a lot of prefabricated houses had been built, the homes were down to their foundations.  I heard stories of people huddling in bathtubs.

I remember hearing the only fatality was a baby that had been taken out of its mother’s arms and thrown into a garage door. I heard one story about the tornado taking a beer bottle out of a refrigerator, opening the bottle and sitting it on a table in the kitchen in a house with no roof. I personally saw a shoemaker’s metal shoe form firmly embedded into a tree.

Yes, your article* did bring back some memories! Scary ones at that!"

*This is a reference to an article by Joe Noga, "Deadly storm still stirs memories of devastation," that appeared in the Sun News newspapers on 12 June 2008.

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Arthur W. Zimmerman, Bay Village, OH.  June 2008

"You might say I am one of those weather freaks. I become especially interested in the weather between the months of March through August. During that period my attention is drawn to the weather page in the morning paper and in the evening, over dinner, I watch and listen to the weather predictions on the TV. Like some weird survivalist, I stock up on some provisions in my cellar and make sure I have extra flashlights stashed throughout the house. (continued.... click here for the complete account.)

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Sue Herbert Kiley, Lakewood, OH.  8 June 2008

"I have been looking at your interesting web site and reminiscing about the June 8, 1953 tornado. 

At the time, I was almost 7 years old and a student at Ascension school on West 140th. My parents, Charles and Bernice Herbert, my two brothers Bill and Ed, and I
 lived at 4621 West 147th, south of Puritas Avenue.

"We had an old Sylvania TV and I seem to remember some sort of a warning being on the TV. Of course it would be nothing like the sophisticated weather reports of

today! It may have been something like a beeping sound or like that Emergency Broadcast System they use today. I remember my Dad was looking out the door and commenting about the way the sky looked and he even said something about a tornado.

"Then I think I remember the door blew open really hard. That is when he said he was sure we should take cover. We did not have a basement and he said to go to the bedroom in the back of the house. He made us all get down on the floor and led us in prayer. This was unusual to us because this was out of character for him even though we went to church on Sunday. He must have really been worried! I do not remember hearing the wind or anything like that.

"After a short while we heard knocking on the door. It was Mr. Campbell, our neighbor from two doors down. (Fred & Julia Campbell at 4613 West 147th.)

"'Hey Herbert, you want to get your garage out of my yard,' he asked my Dad.

"Of course he was not being mean, just trying to make my Dad laugh in a really stressful situation. It was dark by this time and we could not really see very much but our garage was definitely destroyed and pieces of it were all over the neighborhood.

"I remember the same neighbor invited all the neighbors to his house and people brought food and snacks. They had a basement in their house and I seem to remember people were talking about the possibility of more bad weather.

"The next day we saw all the terrible damage. Big trees all up and down our street were uprooted and our garage and several others on the street were wiped out! No homes on our street were flattened but garages were gone. Wires were down everywhere and the gutters and downspouts were ripped off of our house and others. My parents always talked about that storm every year in June.

Connie on treeHerbert house in ruins

Left:  One of the neighborhood children, "Connie," on a big maple tree the tornado brought down near 6421 West 147th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. June 9, 1953.

Right:  Remains of the Herbert family's garage at 4621 West 147th Street, Cleveland, Ohio.  "The debris is our garage and the caption entered by my Mom is, 'View from our upstairs rear window.'" June 9, 1953.

Photographs courtesy of Sue Herbert Kiley.

"We moved to Lorain County in 1954 where there was a tornado there in 1965 which led to even more discussion. Also, my Dad was old enough to remember the tornado that hit the city of Lorain in the twenties!

 "Thanks for the very interesting web site and information. It is nice to reminisce, even about sad things."

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David Shepley, Brunswick, OH.  20 September 2007

"I was at a Boy Scout meeting at Ascension Church (West 140th and Puritas) when a report of serious weather approaching sent us all home. I was terrified as I rode my bike home as fast as I could. Luckily I was heading north on West 140th and was going way from the tornado itself. It was certainly the most horrific rain and thunderstorm as I headed home. The next day, my friends and I headed back toward the school and viewed the damage."

damage W 140th Street 1953  

W 140th Street damage. 1953

Top Left:  Broken windows at Ascension School.
Top Right:  A garage on West 140th, across from the school.
Bottom:  A view of backyards in the same area.

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Dale Griffey, Middleburg Heights, OH.  22 June 2007

"Do I ever remember that tornado! I was only 5 years old but remember it well.  My uncle was cutting my hair when we received a phone call from my aunt that a tornado had been sighted.  I lived on W. 120 just south of Linnet.  My uncle lived on W. 92 south of Almira.  I later heard the horror stories of his ride home through and around downed trees all the way.

"What I remember most is the calm after the hail, also that weird 'tornado color.'  My mother, father, brother, and I were all out in the front yard.  We heard this train noise.  My mom grabbed me and we headed to the basement, with my brother and dad laughing like mad.  Well, it wasn't long before we heard the heavy footsteps running above us, to join us in the basement. It wasn't so funny now!  To make a long story short, the tornado missed us but there was carnage all around us.

"The new houses along W.117 south of Cooley got hit pretty hard.  Some moved right off of the foundations.  It must have jumped over our street because it hit homes on W. 122 right behind us.  It also did a pretty good job on the trees on West Blvd.  My brother Lee went out to help search for a baby that had been sucked out of its bedroom.  He came back in the morning all covered with flakes of glass from searching through debris."

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Susan Joyce, Lafayette, CO.  8 June 2007

 "I do remember the tornado of 1953. We lived at 18809 Maplewood Avenue out by the airport. Our neighborhood was very lucky, it jumped over us. My dad must have been at work. He was the Station Master at Union Station in the terminal tower and worked all kinds of odd shifts. My mom sat us on the floor, just her and I, and pulled a twin bed mattress over us. There weren't any basements in those homes. But I had no idea the tornado was so devastating! I was only 6 at the time."

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Paul J. Varga, Strongsville, OH.  7 June 2007

"My wife, son, and I lived at 4326 West 138th, between Sherry and Bellshire Avenues.  The tornado went right over our house.  I heard this big roar and had time to yell for everyone to get down the basement.  Right after it passed we went outside to look around.  It was completely still.  No wind at all.  It was gone just that quick.

"We had pieces of a corrugated fence in our yard from three blocks away on West 130th.  A neighbor a few doors down had finished building a new two-car garage.  It was gone.  The tornado also tore the porch roof off a house across the street.  It hit the sidewalk and ricocheted into the house of our neighbor, Jim Goggin.  It went right between his two children and cut his couch in half.  Neither of the kids was hurt."

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Laverne Popa, Cleveland, OH.  18 May 2007

"I'm still in the same house on West 117th where I was living when the tornado hit.  It happened so fast.  The house rumbled, there was a fierce wind, everything whirling and blowing.  We had no basement to go to.  My husband and I ran from the front to the back of the house, and by then it was over.  It happened that quickly.

"There was damage to the front of the house.  Our window blew in but we weren't hurt.  It didn't tear off any walls or anything.  But my neighbor about four houses down from me, Mary Balint, the winds took her baby right out of the house!  We didn't hear about it until later.

"After the tornado, we left our home only temporarily.  We went to my husband's mother's house at Madison Avenue and West 116th just until things settled down.  Maybe one night.  We just went on living and didn't think about it anymore."

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Christine Shermak, North Ridgeville, OH.  16 May 2007

"My parents and I lived at 12101 Summerland Avenue between West 130th and West 117th.  I was nine years old at the time of the tornado. It was Monday night and I LOVE LUCY was on.  It was the only night I was allowed to stay up that late to watch the show.  As it turned out, I was very lucky I wasn't in my bed during the storm.

"Our house and the other new homes were all one-story with no basement.  One of our neighbors on St. John Avenue, the first street south of us, had an older two-story house.  When the weather started looking bad he came around and told us we could come to his place because he had a basement.  But we didn't think it was going to be that bad and didn't go.

"I remember there was wind, and rain, then all of a sudden, it became real calm.  Then it hailed.  Pieces of hail as big as softballs!  My dad went out and picked up some of them.  We put them in the sink and they were still there after the tornado.

"I think it was my dad spotted the tornado while collecting hail.  We didn't have time to do anything but run into the house.  We had a coat, or linen closet, right in the center of the house.  We couldn't fit into it but, since it was the only place not facing a door or window, we stood in the hallway in front of it.

"I remember the violent wind, the windows cracking, and the noise as the tornado went by.  The hall was like a wind tunnel.  The strength of the wind coming through actually seemed to lift me.  I felt like I was floating in the air but my parents had hold of me.

"We weren't hurt but there was a big rip in the back kitchen wall.  It had cracked and caved from the roofline to the floor.  The next day we saw houses around us had been flattened.  One person had 3 or 4 cars stacked up in their yard against the house.  They'd been prevented from traveling any further by the house.  I was told someone found their car about a block away with the keys still in the ignition but I don't know for sure that really happened.

"Looters!  You can't believe how quickly looters moved in. They had to bring in the National Guard to protect property.  They weren't even letting family members come into the neighborhood because they didn't know who anyone was.  My Aunt Irene had been talking to my mom on the phone shortly before the tornado hit and managed to make it in to see us.  She happened to be wearing white and I think they thought she was a nurse.

"The Red Cross came in and I was told they had the audacity to charge for drinks or coffee. Again, I don't know if that was true.

"Some of the men, including my dad, spent the night in their houses to help guard them.  My dad decided to sleep in my bed because it looked so neat and undisturbed.  When he turned it back he found a big sheet of glass had sliced right through my mattress!  It was a good thing I was up late watching TV or I would have been injured."

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Pam Zbasnik, Elyria, OH.  14 May 2007

"My mom would spread out a red rug on the floor and we'd all sit on it and watch I LOVE LUCY on TV.  We were watching the show when the tornado hit.  There was no warning at all. My dad (Louis Balint) looked out the window and saw bricks flying around from the gas station across the street.  He yelled to my mom to get all the kids in the bedroom.

"Then it seemed like the house lifted straight up and then just, splat, crashed down again.  I just remember being thrown into the corner and all the broken glass.  It just seemed like the house went straight up and then – boom!

"People helped out by donating furniture to us because our house was completely destroyed.  Even after all these years I still have some of the furniture including a bedroom set with a nice oval mirror.

"We rebuilt a new home on the same street (West 117th) about half a block down from where our old house stood.  I lived there all my life until I got married.  My mom (Mary Balint) sold the house just last fall.  She lived there for some fifty years."

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Richard R. Morrison, Cleveland, OH.  12 May 2007

"It was in the evening when the tornado it.  My brother George was living here (West 143rd Street) at the time.  He was a guard at the Federal Reserve Bank downtown and I drove him to work in my brand new 1952 Mercury.

"The weather looked stormy but we didn't think too much about it.  As we passed the White Sewing Machine Company on Berea Road part of the building blew off and landed in the road.  It was like a big chunk of sandstone from the edge of the roof.  It came pretty darn close to hitting us.  Later when I got home I found my garage doors damaged, one of them almost completely torn off.

"At the time I wasn't aware a tornado had hit.  It just seemed like high winds.  But when I went to work the next morning I saw more of the damage and realized it was worse than I'd thought.  There was stuff blown all over the place around here.  My wife's sister lived over on Dale Avenue east of Bosworth.  I saw houses there with complete sections ripped away.  One home had the whole front missing. You could look right in and see the bedroom set still sitting there."

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Peggy Patton, Cleveland, OH.  12 May 2007

"Whenever the weather becomes still and heavy in the early evening I think back to that night.  It was hot and muggy and absolutely still, not even the leaves on the trees were moving.  I lived in the first house on Kirton Avenue off West 130th street and the usual noisy traffic sounds were eerily muffled.  The air was so oppressive it made you sleepy.

"I was sixteen and school had just ended for the summer.  My best friend, Jo Ann Prioletti and I had spent the afternoon swimming at Berea Quarries.  We got back to my house around 6 p.m.  We ate a heavy meal and then both of us fell asleep, she on the front porch swing and me in my bedroom.

"My mother woke us up, saying there was a noise coming from the attic.  An open stairway led up to an unfinished attic on the third floor.  The wind was howling and whistling and the noise was frightening so I guess we were a little scared.  We just went halfway up the stairs and stuck our heads into the dark attic.  Nothing was blowing around and the windows were closed.  As our eyes adjusted to the dark attic, we realized that the roof was moving.  The very top part of the attic was swaying but the floor was stable.  We scrambled down the stairs and told my mother that we were not going back up there for all the money in the world.

"Outside the wind was blowing hard and the trees were losing branches.  Traffic had stopped and you could barely see the houses across the street.  The electricity was gone and phones were out.  We didn't know it was a tornado until somebody heard it from a policeman.  We waited on the front porch until the rain stopped.  Then we walked north on West 130th to Bellaire Road.  The underpass was flooded so we crossed over the railroad tracks.

"About a half mile from my home we began to see evidence of the tornado.  I remember seeing a small two bedroom house sitting in the middle of the street.  Trees were down everywhere, on houses, on cars, and blocking streets.

"Everyone was calm and people were helping each other.  They were sawing up trees to get them off houses and cars.  They put flares by fallen wires and directed traffic. There was a real sense of community spirit.

"We went back to our neighborhood which was relatively unharmed with just a lot of fallen branches and debris.  The next morning the newspaper was filled with front page headlines and pictures of the tornado.  There were several deaths, many injuries and a lot of damage.

"Later on that week I saw the large duplexes on West 117th Street near Bellaire Road piled up on each other.  They were taken right off their foundations and stacked together like a deck of cards.  My sister lived in Riverview Terrace Projects on West 25th.  When I visited her I saw total devastation on West 28th Street.  Many of those buildings and homes were so badly damaged they had to be torn down.  I would say that was the worst hit area on the west side.

"We didn't know anybody who had major damage to their home and our neighborhood was back to normal in a few days but whenever the air is heavy and still, I make a mental note to stay close to home and my safe basement."

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Dar Simecek, West Park, OH.  12 May 2007.  ---  Downtown Cleveland

"It was a warm, beautiful day — 8 June 1953.  My mom and I took the Clark Avenue (No. 23) streetcar to Cleveland’s Public Square.  It was late afternoon but Downtown was very lively because all the stores were open until 9:00 pm on Mondays.  We did some “window shopping” and had a snack at the lunch counter of F. W. Woolworth’s, then the newest dime store on Euclid Avenue.

"As early evening approached we walked toward our destination, the Hippodrome Theatre at 720 Euclid with its glowing marquee and the comfort of air conditioning.  The movie I wanted to see was “It Came From Outer Space” in 3-D, starring Richard Carlson and Barbara Rush.  As a 9-year-old kid, I loved monster movies!  After sitting through the newsreel, a “short,” previews and cartoon, it was probably around 8:30 when the feature finally began.  I was enjoying the movie immensely although I’m not so sure mom shared my enthusiasm for grotesque creatures from other galaxies.

"As the story on the screen approached its climax with falling rocks, screams, and weird theremin music, there was a loud rumble.  The huge theatre actually shook!  We thought it was, perhaps, part of the soundtrack, though it felt all too real.

"Soon the film ended and as the audience exited the Hippodrome we were met with the wail of sirens and piercing alarms.  Broken glass and debris covered the sidewalks.  Power lines were down but there was a strange glow to the night sky.  We were stunned to see nearly every store window blown out along Euclid Avenue.   It was otherworldly, as though beings from outer space must have landed in Cleveland, too!"

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Robert S. Montgomery, North Royalton, OH.  8 May 2007.

"My wife and I moved into a new house at 13420 Kirton Avenue off West 130th in September, 1952, not long after we were married.  It was a little place with no basement.  On the night of the tornado I looked out and saw a huge sycamore tree bent horizontal.  This tree was 60 feet tall and two feet in diameter yet it was bent to the ground.  When I saw this I knew the storm was really bad.  I put our baby under the kitchen table with my wife and crawled under there with them.

"When the storm passed I remember going out into the street, seeing tree limbs down and hearing the sirens.  There was very little damage to my house other than a few shingles missing from the roof and some limbs gone off a tree.  It wasn't until a day later we realized just how bad the damage was across the city.  On West 117th, up to Halloran Park, there were mostly just slabs left with a few feet of pipe sticking up.  Franklin Boulevard closer to downtown had been lined with an archway of trees but it seemed every one of them was gone.

"After this whenever there were storm warnings my wife and the woman in the neighborhood went down to one of the older neighborhood homes where there was a basement."

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Sandy Shaw, Daleville, AL.  28 April 2007

 "I was nine years old when the tornado hit.  I lived on West 131st Street between Bellaire and Gilmore.  I remember my Dad taking us to the basement.  Towards the end of the tornado my Dad asked me to come upstairs and look out the back door.  I will never forget seeing the tornado go into the junkyard on West l30th.  I was so afraid.  My grandparents lived on Bellaire Rd.  When we went over there the house across the street had lost its roof, and the house next door - half of it was gone.  I remember debris everywhere. I will never forget the sight of that tornado and how afraid I was."

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Alan Toth, Crestline, OH.  17 April 2007

"We lived at 3465 West 129th, the second house from the corner. It was really terrible. First there was rain, then a calm, then the wind, and then the big hit.  I saw chairs and garage doors floating through the air.  It sounded like the biggest locomotive coming through the back yard. The twister sure destroyed the Variety Theater's marquee. There was hail the size of large baseballs. I remember we saved some of them in the freezer."

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Henry Kieffer, Lore City, OH.  11 April 2007

"On the evening of June 8, 1953, I was living on Flamingo Avenue east of Rocky River Drive.  There was a storm brewing.  My father and I were on our front porch looking south towards the airport.  The air was ominously still.  The strange quiet was unsettling.  I believe we were witnessing the birth of the tornado.  There were unusual noises from the south and the storm seemed to move toward West 174th probably passing over the project.  (We always referred to the government housing development as "The Project".)

"There were some trees damaged in the Martha Road, West 168th - 173rd Street area.  I think the tornado passed overhead in this vicinity and the damage was slight.  The tornado then touched down north of Puritas in the West 145th street area.  On Tuesday newspapers were full of accounts of the damage.

"Among those seriously hurt was Norbert Tinker who was a friend and member of our church.  (Norbert Tinker lived at 3718 Highland Road just east of West 117th.)  He was in his woodshop in his garage when the tornado hit.

"The garage was heavily damaged and he suffered a broken neck.  His treatment involved wearing a neck brace to keep his head immobilized.  He wore this brace for a very long time.  The doctor who treated Norbert said he was very lucky and the damage to his neck was close to being fatal.  A year or so later his doctor thought they could fuse vertebrae in his neck which would make it unnecessary for Norbert to wear the cumbersome neck brace.

"The operation was extremely risky.  It was imperative no movement be allowed during this procedure. Norbert elected to go through with it but requested his minister, Reverend Arnold Elfers, be allowed with him in the operating room.  The surgery was a success.  Norbert resumed a fairly normal life and retired to Tucson, Arizona.

"Another friend of mine lived on West 149th Street.  In 1953 there was construction going on to the west of him.  He remembers bathtubs and sinks from the new homes showed up on his property after the tornado.

"My wife was going to West Tech at the time.  She lived on West 86th, north of Clark.  Trees were damaged in front of her home, rooftops torn up, and cars smashed.  She remembers being out of school for several days and being without electricity for a long time.  She saw a deceased infant being carried away, a scene she has had a hard time forgetting."

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Jack L. Palmer, Palmer's Barber Shop, 15107 Puritas Ave., Cleveland, OH.

Jack PalmerResides Brooklyn, OH.  30 March 2007.

"My mother, my brother, and I were at home that night (at 12208 St. John Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio.)  My father was at work.  My brother Richard and I were in bed.  I was 11 and he was 5.  We slept in the same room in twin beds.

"It was storming and we heard hail begin to hit the house.  We got up to look out the window and the hail looked like the size of baseballs.  It was dusk and there was an orange color in the sky, everything just had a funny hue to it.

"Then we heard what sounded like a freight train coming down the street.  It was more like three freight trains coming down the street at the same time.  My mother, brother and I ran back into the bedroom.  There was no basement.

"Then all the windows broke.  I remember the curtains and the Venetian blinds were stuck to the ceiling by the wind.  I got on my twin bed, which was against the west wall of the house.  My mother got on top of my brother on his twin bed to try and protect him.  She was holding onto his legs.  That's the last thing I personally remember but my mother was conscious the whole time and remembers the house coming apart around us and flying in the air while trying to hang onto my brother.

"Our house was completely destroyed.  There was nothing left but the slab it stood on and a water pipe which was bent all the way to the ground.

"I woke up in a mud puddle on the next street.  I could walk but I had a broken collar bone and my foot was cut.  I don't recall if I found my mother or she found me.

"My mother had been hit in the head by something causing a blood clot which was to give her a lot of trouble later, require two operations, and leave her partly paralyzed.  Something had also torn through her leg, leaving a little hole in the back and a big hold in the front.  Her back looked like it had been clawed by a bear.

"My brother Richard had only bumps and bruises, along with black-and-blue marks where my mother had been hanging onto his legs.

"The three of us were able to walk over to West 117th Street where I think the ambulances were.  I'm remembering back over fifty years now.  We were taken to St. John's Hospital where we sat along the hall with lots of other people who'd been hurt because they didn't have enough rooms.

"My mother was pretty badly hurt so they transferred her to another hospital, Charity I think, where they could take better care of her.

"My father, a driver for Standard Oil, was called by his dispatcher and told about the tornado.  In fact, I think he had left work and was at the Tick-Tock Restaurant on Brook Park Road when they finally found him and told him about the tornado.  I don't remember what he went through before finding us.

"My brother and I were in the same room at St. John's Hospital for, I'm not sure, maybe three days.  They stitched up my foot and I remember the nurses counting the bumps on our heads.  There was gravel embedded in our scalps and I recall the nurses taking the stones out.  My mother was in the hospital at least three months.

"Our house was one of those totally destroyed.  My neighbors found a penny embedded in the rafters of their house.  Eventually my bike was found.  It had been twisted up like a pretzel.  We lost everything we owned.  All we had left was what our father had in his car, basically nothing.

"With our house on St. John completely gone and our mother in the hospital, my brother and I stayed with our grandparents in Maxville, Ohio, for the rest of the summer. When school started I came back to Cleveland, so I wouldn't miss school, and lived with a buddy, Eddie Martin, at his family's house on Summerland Avenue. (The Alfred L. Martin Family at 12413 Summerland Avenue.) For awhile my mother and little brother had to live with relatives in Bremen, Ohio, while my father kept his job in Cleveland.

"We rebuilt our house on St. John Avenue on the old slab.  The new house was almost exactly like our original house and we lived there another 2 ˝ or 3 years.  Whenever there were storm warnings my mother insisted we all get in the car and leave, just to get anywhere away from the house.

 "We eventually moved to a new house on Holland Road in Brook Park which had a basement, which was one of my mother's motivations in making the move.  She felt better living in a house with a basement but has never completely gotten over the tornado.  She is now 85 years old but still gets nervous during stormy weather."

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Memories of Residents of adjacent or Nearby Areas

(The following memories are of events outside The West Park community as designated in this website.  Four neighborhoods located west of West 117th Street including the Jefferson, Kamm's Corners, Riverside and Puritas-Longmead areas approximate the original composition of the neighborhood.)

Michelle L. Baumeister, Counselor at Law, Lima, Ohio .  30 April 2011

"The current spate of tornadoes (and hundreds of deaths) made me wonder how many had died in the Tornado of 1953 in Cleveland. I recognized many of the streets mentioned by those making comments. One person said a baby was killed who had lived on 117th. That baby was the infant brother of my schoolmates at Louis Agassiz Elementary School -- Gerald and Geraldine Balint. The baby was sucked from his crib and landed on the roof of the house two doors from ours on Linnet Avenue (towards Bosworth Avenue).

"The air was very, very still and the sky was a sickening green when we gathered two families and huddled under the basement stairs. I still view the sky looking for that color when it gets very still outside. Then the roar! Like a locomotive on top of you... It was quickly over. Our home (11217 Linnet) only had minor damage, but one could see from the front yard to the back yard into the home next door as the tornado managed to move the two story brick wall from the house towards our house by 2 inches -- all bricks still intact.

"I remember the National Guard which seemed to be swarming everywhere. Their rifles frightened me. I read one comment that stated that just the chimney of the elementary school fell off, but my memory is that the entire roof had been torn away. I don't know which is correct."

Sue Metzler, Cleveland, OH. 30 May 2009

"At age eight, we were living on West 32nd and Franklin, a few short blocks from the house where several people died. What I remember most is the shock of seeing my parents, my protectors, nearly paralyzed with fear. The roar like nothing describable and the wind, when it came sucked my breath away. Breaking glass tinkled like music. Looking through the holes in our first floor apartment, I saw boards and cars, a stove, pieces of roof flying upward.

"When it subsided, our neighbors ran screaming toward my father. Mrs. Smerk had stepped on a nail and was walking with a four-foot piece of lumber attached to her foot. Then all was quiet except for soft sobs coming from all directions accompanied by the drip, drip of water from some broken pipes.

"The next day I discovered one of my classmates at Wm. H McGuffy school had lost his mother. I never saw him or his family again.

"Playing in the debris, my brother and I found a pencil driven through the broken branch of an oak tree almost five-inches in diameter; a souvenir I've kept all these years - stashed somewhere in the attic.

"I'll never forget and to this day tornado warnings make me extremely nervous."

Marion (Zorn) Reddy, Cleveland, OH.  28 February 2009

"I remember the tornado very well. I was eight years old and we lived on Elton Ave off West 73rd Street. We had renters in the upstairs apartment of our two-family home. The gentleman upstairs had a broken leg and my Dad had to try to get him down the basement. The wind was so strong my Dad had a very hard time getting the door to shut. It was very scary.

 "The next morning we found out that our neighbor had been killed when the porch roof collapsed on top of her as the chimney came crashing down on the roof. We lived right next door to her and it was a big shock to my parents when it happened. She had gone out on the porch to call her cat in from outside. I'm really not sure if it was a dog or cat. With all the downed trees, it took all day before an ambulance could get down the street to take her out of there.

"We had minor damage to our house and property. We had a few loose shingles and our rain gutter was wrapped around a telephone pole behind our house. My Dad had them put on the house just the year before. We all made it down the basement safely and were glad to have survived that terrible night."

Marie Farrell, North Ridgeville.  14 June 2008

"My birthday is June 4th 1953. I was 4 days old when the tornado hit. My mother and I were in Lutheran Hospital. She used to tell me all the patients were told to run into the halls. Just then all the windows blew in. There was an old house next to the hospital. I was told it collapsed and the family of five died. I have no pictures, only the story."

Raymond Deas, Nashville, TN.  14 June 2008

"My dad's parents lived on Dale Ave. a block or so from W. 117th.  Daddy said a telephone pole went through their house, in one window and out the other as Grandma sat at her sewing machine.  I don't remember their house being boarded up, but I do recall walking within a few blocks surveying the damage.  Mostly, I remember one house on which the entire front wall was ripped off, while every stick of furniture inside remained in place."

Carole (Mihaly) Andrus, Cleveland, OH. 12 June 2008

"My family lived on west 116th street between Bellaire and Highland Road. After "I Love Lucy" was over we went to bed. Soon after, Mom and Dad yelled "get in the basement!' The wind was so strong that we ran posthaste to the basement. I will never forget the sound of the roof creaking and the noise of glass breaking. It sure scared us! After the storm, we went out to see what damage had been done. The neighbor's garage was on top of my Dad's garden! We stayed up all night that night. Were afraid to go back to sleep. We were very lucky not to get hurt. Most windows were damaged in our house. I remember walking to Louis Agassiz school after a week off and seeing all the large trees down. It took many weeks of cleanup to open the streets again."

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Ruth LaTour Telfer, Bay Village, OH.  12 June 2008

"I grew up on Cleveland's west side. I'm now 93 years old and was a teacher at Almira School on West 98th Street for 39 years.

 "I went to Franklin Circle Church on Franklin Avenue from the time I was a child. I was baptized there and later taught Sunday school at the church for 20 years.

 "In 1953, my future husband, Ralph Telfer, and I were planning to get married. Ralph was also a public school teacher and taught at Lakewood High. We had bought a home and were planning to move to Bay Village.

 "On the evening of June 8th, I called my minister at Franklin Circle Church, Reverend Hoke Dickinson, to arrange a date for my wedding and explain I would not be coming to church any longer since I was moving.

 "He said I couldn't leave the church because I was needed so badly there. He explained he was leaving as well and suggested, in a lighthearted manner, the church "would fall in" if two such important people were to leave the church.

 "I joked back that I was certain they'd be able to replace both of us and the church would be fine. We arranged for my wedding to take place at the church on July 11th, 1953.

 "I was living with my mother on West 48 Street at the time. It was not long after I'd hung up with the Reverend, and made a note of my wedding date, that my mother heard the wind, saw the trees waving, and knew it was bad. She said we'd better head for the cellar.

 "As it turned out, the Franklin Circle area was one of the worst hit neighborhoods in Cleveland. The church was heavily damaged by the tornado. On July 11th, Ralph and I were forced to have our wedding in the much smaller chapel behind the main sanctuary.

 "As we walked out of the church on our wedding day, we passed right under a sign proclaiming the site a "Red Cross Disaster Area." We often joked the church had indeed fallen in, just as my minister had predicted."

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Lois Gollwitzer Dixon, Livonia, Michigan.  8 July 2007

"The evening of June 8, 1953, my parents and I went to the Madison Theater on Madison Avenue near West 95 Street.  While we were watching "I Love Melvin" (Donald O'Connor and Debbie Reynolds), the lights went out in the theater and the movie stopped.  After a while, the management gave everyone free passes for another movie.  When we got outside, we could see that a storm had passed through the area (leaves, twigs and small branches on the sidewalk in front of the theater).  Once we got to the car, parked on a side street, we could see that the storm had really done some major damage.  My dad tried to drive home, but every street he took was blocked by fallen trees across the road.  My dad finally had to drive east on Madison to W. 73 St. and drive south to Denison, go over the bridge and head south on Ridge Road.  He was then able to take Clinton to West Boulevard to Walford and finally to W. 97 St.  He had to park the car there and we walked the rest of the way home.  My dad stayed so quiet and calm while trying to find a way to drive home safely, and my mom was trying not to panic.  I was ten years old at the time, and it was an exciting adventure for me.  My brother, only three, was at home with my aunt and uncle.  They were worried about us, while we were worried about their safety.  We were all so thankful that no harm had come to our family."

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Barb Mentz Ralston, Eugene, OR.  15 May 2007

"My older sister Margie remembers the tornado of 1953 well.  It was the day after her 8th grade graduation from St. Ignatius.   My parents could not reach my mom's sister due to all the downed phone lines.  In order to check on her my dad walked from our house, at West 98th and Nicholas, to my aunt's home at West 59th and Bridge, armed only with a flashlight.  Looking back, my sister says dad probably walked over live wires!  My mom had just told the kids to stay in the house as the storm was getting worse and the tree on the lawn next door fell onto our neighbor's car.  My other sister, Judy, remembers our other aunt driving down West 65th and the wind being so strong it turned her car around and headed her in the opposite direction."

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Darlene (Welther) DiCato, Green, OH.  11 May 2007

"What an experience that tornado of 1953 was for me!  At the time, we lived on West 86th Street between Clark and Denison Avenues.  I was attending kindergarten at Halle Elementary School.

"The date of that tornado is firmly planted in my mind, as the next day, June 9th, was my 6th birthday and the first time I could take class birthday treats to school.  Unfortunately, the tornado did extensive neighborhood damage and caused the roof of my kindergarten classroom to collapse.  School was cancelled and I was devastated.

"The newspaper had a photo of the principal looking at the fallen ceiling.  At one time, I had a copy of the photo but it has somehow disappeared after 50+ years."

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Dolores Klafta, Mayfield Heights, OH.  9 May 2007

"How well I remember that night! I lived on West 95th Street between Lorain and Denison.  We had no driveway so my dad parked on the street.  My father moved his car for fear of something landing on it.  Well the spot he moved it from went unscathed but in the "new" spot his car ended up with a smashed hood.

"My boyfriend, later my husband, could not call his folks to let them know he was alright and could NOT get home that night.  I wonder if they believed that one at first?

"There was no school so I went out and took pictures.  (Click here to see some of the pictures.) Unreal what Mother Nature can do and how insignificant humans were in stopping such a force. I have since moved to the eastside where the snow loves us but I will never forget that night and the days that followed. It was like nothing I had ever experienced.

"So many memories, tears and prayers come flooding back when I read the vivid recollections of my school friends on this website.  It was a time when our hearts almost pounded out of our chests.  It was so frightening and there was not a thing anyone could do.  It's like being taking out of the regular world and things swirling with no rhyme or reason.  It let us know how insignificant we humans are against something like this.  I saw the news about the tornado that hit Greensburg, Kansas and cried for those people."

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James C Mitchell, (city undisclosed,) South Carolina.  3 May 2007

"Even after 54 years it seems like yesterday.  I lived with my grandparents at the time in an apartment building between West 97th and 98th on the south side of Lorain Avenue.  My family was a fixture on that corner having lived there over 50 years after migrating from old Irish Town.  We were above the shoe and state liquor stores.  It was like every store front had its windows knocked out by a sledge hammer!  All the trees on most of the streets had to be cut down at the base with chain saws.  It was never the same neighborhood after that.  The storm of "53" is forever embedded in my mind.  Unless you have been through one you have no idea the fear! I remember there were no warnings.  We thought it just a bad thunderstorm."

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Lois Gollwitzer Dixon, Livonia, Michigan.  15 April 2007

"I lived on West. 97th Street two blocks south of Lorain. Our area lost almost every tree for several blocks.  My late uncle, Karl M. Bauer, was a teacher at West Tech High School for many years.  He took his 16mm movie camera to the West 117 area the day after the tornado.  A dozen years ago my dad sent some of his photos of tornado damage to TV weatherman Dick Goddard.   In July 2005, Goddard used some of the film my dad sent to him as part of a TV special on tornados."

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Dave Thompson, Cleveland, OH.  13 April 2007

Dave Thompson"I was 10 years old and living with my parents (Paul & Virginia Thompson) at 10713 Governor Avenue between Bosworth and West 105th.  It was Monday night when the tornado hit.  I would normally have been in bed at that time but the sky was all yellow and my parents felt that something was coming.  My father decided we'd all better head for the basement.  I distinctly remember a plank hit our house just as I was on the third step down.

"I don't remember hearing any noise of any kind as we waited in the basement but my brother says he recalls a noise like a jet.  Then it was real quiet.  When it seemed safe my father had us all come up.  There wasn't any real damage to our house.

"We looked outside after the tornado.  Everybody who lived on our street had a big sycamore tree on their lawn at the time.  The storm just laid all the trees right into the street.  I don't believe they hit any houses.  All you could see was trees lying in the road.  There were only four or five on the whole block left standing.  We must not have had any lights because I remember the streetlights were out.  We didn't go out looking that night.  They cleared the streets the next day.  College kids came through with chain saws.

"I saw a piece of straw sticking through a telephone pole.  There were pictures of it in the paper but I remember seeing it first hand.

"I was going to Louis Agassiz Elementary School on Bosworth.  The storm had blown the smokestack off the building.  It fell right into the center of playground behind the school.  It was dead center in the playground.  It didn't really hurt anything.  They kept us out of school for about five days.  It hit on a Monday night and we went back to school the following Monday.  Wilbur Wright school, just a short way north on Bosworth, didn't have any damage at all.

"We were told the Red Cross was set up down at Halloran Park giving out donuts and coffee but we didn't go down there.  I remember there were four brick houses on West 117th Street where a baby was killed.  There was talk about investigating the builders of those homes because of some kind of faulty construction but I don't know if anything ever came of that."

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Earl Maki, Largo, FL.  8 April 1007

Maki House

"I lived on West 73rd between Madison and Lorain.  I was 4 years old at the time of the tornado.  I remember the frantic race my parent had to gather up four young boys and a baby, get down two flights of stairs, lift a huge floor lid to the basement and herd us all down the cinder block stairs to safety!!  As we got to the ground floor on our way to the basement the back door flew open!  Luckily my dad and older brother were able to hold it closed as passed!  That night I learned the Rosary! My mom never once stopped praying out loud!

"The next morning we found a huge oak leaning on our house but it did surprisingly little damage!  Our neighbor had built a 2 car brick garage.  It was totally gone but the cars were barely scratched!  I particularly remember these moments because all the adults were amazed and couldn't stop talking about the miracles.  I can still envision the morning after the tornado and it was more than 50 years ago."

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Francine Brunecz, New York City, NY.  8 April 2007

"I lived off West 30th and Lorain.  The tornado was something I'll never forget!   We had two beautiful huge oak trees on the side of our house.  Both were pulled up like twigs.  My father's car was smashed like a tin can!  Boy, was that a sight to see, I can still remember as if it were yesterday!   And get this - I love tropical storms!  What can I say? <wink>"

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Bob Stanton, North Las Vegas, NV.  8 April 2007

"I lived on the corner of West 111th and Lorain Avenue when the tornado hit.  I remember it sounding like a very loud locomotive trying to make it up a steep hill.  The noise was deafening. It actually came right down West 111th street, south of Lorain.  I vividly remember seeing it out our balcony window.  It was so dark and loud outside.  I thought sure we were going to die.  All I could think of was possibly meeting Dorothy and the Wiz somewhere along the way.  Fortunately for us it took a turn east just before it got to the end of 111th street and went over to 110th street by the old Sears building.  I remember the next day seeing a complete garage from someone else's yard sitting in a new location almost completely intact.  Of course, there was a lot of damage on our street but nothing serious.  We were lucky. We kids spent the next couple days going around the neighborhood helping where we could and seeing all the damage first hand."

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Updated by: Charles C. Chaney

14 June 2014