Events‎ > ‎

Tornado, June 7, 1947

On Saturday, June 7, 1947, five townships in Trumbull County were hit by an F-4[1] tornado that traveled a 75-mile-long path from Cuyahoga Falls, Summit County, Ohio, through Vienna Township, and into Mercer, Pennsylvania. The tornado also roared through Weathersfield, Howland, Liberty, and Brookfield Townships.

As reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer the next day, the United States Weather Bureau at the Youngstown Municipal Airport, the storm struck at 2:26 p.m. Sixty-miles-an-hour winds accompanied the tornado. Hailstones two inches in diameter were found on the airfield. The barometer dropped quickly to a low of 28.44.[2]

The financial loss caused by this natural disaster was $1,500,000. The cost in human life and suffering was far worse. Four Vienna residents, and two residents of Sharon, Pennsylvania, lost their lives. One hundred persons in Trumbull County were injured. Dozens of ambulances from Warren, Niles, Girard, and Youngstown ferried the injured to hospitals in Warren, Liberty, Youngstown, and Sharon. Many more of the injured were reported to have been treated in physicians' offices.

Five hundred people were left homeless. The American Red Cross opened an emergency relief station at Vienna Centralized School. Many families moved in with friends and relatives. Many slept on cots at the high school. Field kitchens were opened in the Township to feed and provide drinking water to the sufferers.

Postmaster Ruth Scott reported that 50 houses were damaged.[3]

The tornado was so powerful that the Bell Telephone Company stated that telephone poles had completely vanished.

More than 100 sightseers jammed the roads after the tornado passed. On June 8, the day after the storm, 1,200 automobiles passed checkpoints in Vienna each hour. It was the worst traffic tie-up in Trumbull County history.




Locus of the Damage: Belmont Avenue Extension (Youngstown-Kingsville Road), Smith-Stewart Road, and Niles-Vienna Road
Dorothy Bertok saw her home destroyed and watched her husband be buried by the debris of their barn. Their house was located on Belmont Avenue Extension (Youngstown-Kingsville Road, formerly known as Route 90), south of what is now Squaw Creek Country Club. According to news reports, all structures, from shacks to dwellings to barns, in the vicinity of Squaw Creek were destroyed.


From: Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 9, 1947. The original caption reads: 'AFTER THE STORM. Mrs. Harold Chilton and her son Donnie survey the ruins of their wrecked home on the Niles-Vienna Road, Trumbull County. Rev. Norman Kelley helps them look for valuables."

On Niles-Vienna Road, 12 houses were destroyed, leaving 34 persons homeless. Twenty persons were injured as the tornado wrecked their dwellings. One newspaper reported that, on the "angling road [Niles-Vienna]... 12 houses were reduced to splinters, yet family after family told of emerging from the debris unharmed except for scratches and bruises."[4]

Mrs. William Schuller was upstairs in her house on Niles-Vienna Road when the tornado hit. She took her two children--Richard, age 9, and Ruth Ann, age 7--and hurried to the basement. There they lay on the floor while the house collapsed atop them.

Harold Chilton's house was knocked from its foundations. He, his wife Helen, and their three children, another couple and their two-month-old baby were in the Chilton kitchen. He told a reporter, "'I looked out the window saw the roof of my neighbor's house blow by,' Chilton said, adding: 'I snatched the baby from the crib and huddled in the corner. A minute later the crib was smashed to pieces. Suddenly the door titled and we were knocked down. When we crawled out, the roof and everything else was gone.'"[5]

Dan Haynie, also of Niles-Vienna Road, lay on a cot in Vienna Centralized School on the night of the tornado and gave his account to the newspapers. He was working in the barn with his brothers Jack and Bob when the tornado hit. He fell to the floor as he pulled his brother with him. Together they watched their chicken coop as it was blown past the barn door. His sister Hazel had been blown over the hillside. When the wind had slowed, Dan and his brothers ran to the house that had, by then, been wrecked. His badly hurt parents and sister were taken to a hospital in Warren.

Six-year-old Bernard Lavin was bathing when the tornado struck. His father, Bernard Lavin, Sr., saw the tornado nearing their dwelling on Niles-Vienna Road and called to warn his family. The bathtub was carried about 150 feet. Bernard's wife Betty, Bernard, Jr., Barbara (age 13), Mary Alice (age 11), and Margarite (age 9), escaped with minor bruises. All that was left of the Lavin house was the cellar, according to news reports: "The furniture was smashed to junk, but curiously unharmed by the twister that smashed through steel, mortar and brick were jar after jar of preserves, fruits and vegetables."[6]

Injuries
The following Vienna residents were hospitalized: Vina Woodford, Elbert Beachler, Albert L. Beachler, Ruth Schuller, E. F. Smith, Evelyn Smith, Mrs. Frank Ruska, Louis Bertok, and Mrs. Louis Bertok.[7]

Deaths
Four Vienna residents died as a result of the tornado. Wade Woodford was 66 years old when he died. He was found lying on Youngstown-Kingsville Road. Taken to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, he died the following day from his injuries. Woodford, born in Vienna on November 2, 1880, was a custodian at the Vienna Centralized School.

Jennie Marie Gray and her grandson Terry Lee Niswonger lost their lives at the Gray home on Smith-Stewart Road near the corner of Niles-Vienna Road. Mrs. Gray called her husband Howard, who came downstairs as the upper part of their house was destroyed. After Howard crawled from the wreckage, he heard his wife's calls. Rescue workers later found her body and the body of her 18-month-old grandson.

Mary E. Wilson Beachler, born February 19, 1882, and the wife of Albert L. Beachler, died in the storm.

Aftermath


Zanesville Times-Recorder, June 9, 1947, page 1

Newspapers throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania noted Vienna's slow recovery from the devastating tornado. The "tremendous devastation" included flattened and damaged buildings, but also the detritus blown by the high winds.

Bits of clothing hung from broken trees and twisted telephone and electric wires. A chicken, its feathers shaved by the tornado, hobbled about. Here and there a pig or cow nosed in the rubble.

A tiny American flag, blown from someone's house, nestled in a bush.

....

In the affected areas of Vienna there is nothing to pack and nothing to fix--there are only pikes of debris and uprooted trees.

Families search through ruins, hoping at best to find some treasured momento [sic] or a picture unharmed. Houses were leveled, the furniture smashed and clothing turned to rags.[8]

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported:

One of the strangest stories of the tornado’s caprices came today from Diamond, Pa., near Meadville, where Mrs. Lettie McElhaney found in her front yard a school report card belonging to Barbara Lavin of Niles-Vienna Road. The card had been carried more than 80 miles.[9]

The Red Cross set up a food center and shelter at Vienna Centralized School. State and local police and the Ohio National Guard restricted travel in Vienna. Charles A. Daubenmire, Vienna justice of the peace, saw no other choice than to restrict travel and issue special permits for residents and clean-up workers. He told a reporter "We had to do something. There were about 80,000 cars here yesterday and we had some looting last night. We decided to put a stop to it immediately."[10]

On June 17, the Vienna Township Volunteer Fire Department reported that $12,000 had been collected as a fund for the storm's victims. Three-quarters of that fund--$9,000--had been collected by motorists who had driven through Vienna the weekend after the storm.[11]


Several weeks after the tornado, Vienna residents were still clearing wreckage from the storm.
From the Sandusky Register Star News, June 27, 1947.

On June 27, the Fire Department requested that "able bodied men and boys to help clear away wreckage." The Department and the Vienna Grange combined forces to sponsor a weekend cleanup.

Source
Schmidlin, Thomas, and Jeanne Appelhans Schmidlin. Thunder in the Heartland: A Chronicle of Outstanding Weather Events in Ohio. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1996.


This article is adapted from Fred L. Martin, "The Trumbull County Tornado of June 7, 1947," in Vienna, "Where We Live and Let Live": Town 4, Range 2 of the Connecticut Western Reserve (Apollo, PA: Closson Press, 1999), pp. 177-179. Additional research by Shirley T. Wajda, March 2012.

[1] An F4 tornado possesses wind speeds of 207–260 miles per hour.
[2] "Two State Tornado Kills 5, Injures 100 in Sharon Area," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 8, 1947, p. 31.
[3] "Six Killed by Twister In Ohio, Pennsylvania," Charleston [WV] Daily Mail, June 8, 1947, p. 1.
[4] Elaine Kahn, "Ohio Victims Amazed More Were Not Killed," Titusville [PA] Herald, June 9, 1947, p. 6.
[5] Kahn, "Ohio Victims Amazed More Were Not Killed."
[6] Kahn, "Ohio Victims Amazed More Were Not Killed."
[7] "2-State Storm Casualty List," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 8, 1947, p. 1.
[8] Kahn, "Ohio Victims Amazed More Were Not Killed."
[9] "Tornado Death Toll Now at Six," Cleveland Plain Dealer, June 10, 1947, p. 5.
[10] Kahn, "Ohio Victims Amazed More Were Not Killed."
[11] See, for example, "9,000 Donated," Lima News, June 17, 1947, p. 5.