Ohio Village Devastated by Tornado Looks Ahead

By DAN SEWELL | March 4, 2013

This tiny Ohio River village will mark the anniversary of the devastating tornado that roared through a year ago, damaging nearly everything in sight and killing one person, with a community gathering Saturday.

Village administrator Sandra Ashba said residents will share a pot-luck dinner and tales of survival from the storm, take stock of recovery efforts, and start focusing on the future.

“We’ve been so busy,” Ashba said. “We’ve been struggling for a year to try to rebuild. We want people to get together and tell their stories.”

The tornado on March 2, 2012, ravaged Moscow with winds of up to 160 mph after it swept across the river from Kentucky, part of a severe storm system spawning twisters that killed more than 40 people in Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. This riverfront village about 30 miles east of Cincinnati, less than half a square mile in size, was left with buildings whose roofs were ripped off, power lines and hundreds of trees down or shredded, glass from smashed windows blanketing yards, and personal items tossed miles away.

Moscow, Ohio, March 6, 2012 -- FEMA assessed tornado damage in Ohio. Photo by Carolyn Deming/FEMA
Moscow, Ohio, March 6, 2012 — FEMA assessed tornado damage in Ohio. Photo by Carolyn Deming/FEMA

A village councilwoman was killed in her home, one of three Ohio deaths, and all 101 structures in Moscow had some damage. Nearly half had major damage. Twelve homes were destroyed, and the village hall and post office were left in rubble.

The post office re-opened this week in its new home in the community center, and new village council chambers are nearly ready there. Ashba and other village officials have been working out of makeshift space in the center. She said she usually works late on Fridays but may have survived a year ago only because she went home a little early, just before the tornado tore through her office.

Cleanup crews, utility workers and volunteers from all over helped the village clear most debris within a few weeks, and donations have helped fund a major tree-planting effort. But rebuilding has been slow.

“It’s not as redeveloped as I thought it would be by now,” Moscow resident Rick Beasley said. “It’s sad. There are people who are still struggling.”

Beasley’s home, which was flooded and had its windows blown out and roof torn away in the storm, has been redone. But some other houses are still uninhabitable, and several former residents put their lots up for sale rather than try to rebuild. Reconstruction is still under way in one of two stately early 19th-century houses on the riverfront that were heavily damaged; the other one’s future is uncertain. They were part of the Underground Railroad system that helped slaves fleeing the South to reach freedom.

Village officials want people to look ahead, too.

“We want to hear from them their ideas about what kind of village they want,” Ashba said.

They estimate the village has some 180 residents now, down from 225 a year ago. They’re still hoping some of the departed residents will return and rebuild, or that they can attract newcomers who want to join a quaint, close-knit village that dates to 1816 and bills itself as a peaceful spot on the river. Planning is also under way for a bicentennial celebration in two years.

“It’s been a nice little quiet place,” said Beasley, a Procter & Gamble Co. employee who moved here with his wife 35 years ago to raise their children in a bucolic community with small classroom sizes. “Little or no crime. And I think it (the tornado) really has brought the village even closer.”

There has been a post-tornado addition to his household. The storm left abandoned pets roaming the village, and a black cat he named “Shadow” that was hanging around is now part of the family.

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