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'Determined To Rebuild': Residents Mark 20 Years Since Montgomery Tornado

Ann Thompson
Tuesday past and present residents, first responders and city and township officials gathered to remember the devastation and how the community came together to rebuild.

Montgomery, Sycamore and Symmes townships held a memorial service Tuesday, just across the street from where hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed by a tornado on April 8-9, 1999. The event was meant to look back 20 years and see how far the community had come.

When the tornado hit, Denny Riedmiller was neighborhood association president of Montgomery Woods, an area hit harder than most. Even today he gets emotional when talking about what happened.  "Very traumatic," he says. "There's a lot of pent-up emotions here today." He thanks those who came to Tuesday's remembrance.

Montgomery's Mayor Chris Debrozsi says the tornado heavily damaged 200 homes and destroyed 30 others. Four people died and 20 others were injured.

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
Valleystream is an entrance to Montgomery Woods, one of the hardest hit areas that day.

"Out of that great devastation came a community determined to rebuild and committed to reclaiming what nature had disturbed," Debrozsi told the dozens of people who came to the service. "It was a defining moment for our community in the ways they came together in need."

Jill and Steve Cole stayed and rebuilt. Three of their five kids were home that day and they headed to the basement just before the tornado hit. "We went in the small workroom that we had in the basement," Steve describes. "It was probably the safest place to go to. We got down around the floor, put our arms around the workbench - because it was really heavy - to hold on. And it was really necessary because when it hit the house the pressure changes and you feel like you are being pulled away."

Bob Young was the on-scene commander for the Montgomery Fire Department then. "It was a mess. I've lived in Montgomery my entire life. I had to literally walk in from Snyder and Cornell Roads. It was disorienting. It took me awhile to figure out where I was."

A permanent memorial is on the grounds at Sycamore High School. Superintendent Frank Forsthoefel described how the school became a staging area. "Residents became heroes," he says. "Victims became volunteers and our community locked arms in a spirit of togetherness."

Credit Ann Thompson / WVXU
A few years after the tornado, the Rotary Clubs donated this memorial at Sycamore High School.

Ironically just a week or two before the 1999 tornado, Montgomery Fire Chief Paul Wright conducted an emergency drill. He said that helped and, thanks to Homeland Security money, Hamilton County is better prepared for emergencies like this one.

If you want to get a glimpse of the devastation caused by this tornado and how it affected residents Montgomery put together this podcast.