Saturday, July 15, 2000

Heavy rains, furious winds lash Tristate


Warehouse employees escape moments before roof collapse

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Torrential rains and damaging winds blew through the Tristate Friday afternoon, causing widespread damage that included a warehouse roof that collapsed seconds after 60 workers dashed out emergency exits.

[photo] AN OFFICE DEPOT WAREHOUSE IN WEST CHESTER LOST PART OF ITS ROOF IN FRIDAY'S STORM
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        The storm, which caused damage and flooding in Butler, Hamilton, Warren and Clermont counties, deposited thousands of gallons of water on the roof of the Office Depot warehouse at 4700 Muhlhauser Road in West Chester Township.

        The distribution center's roof plummeted down on of fices that would have been occupied if not for an office manager with keen hearing and quick wits.

mug
Darin Newcomer
        Darin Newcomer, an Office Depot call center manager, said he heard rivets popping free as sheet metal supports in the roof began to give way under the weight of the accumulated water.

        “I heard two loud pops,” said Mr. Newcomer. “I knew something was wrong. All of sudden I see the conference room wall come down on me and it put me on my butt.”

        “I get up and started getting everyone out the side doors,” said the Fairfield man.

[photo] RAIN AND HAIL SNARLED TRAFFIC ON I-275 NEAR FIVE MILE ROAD
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        Call center worker Nicole Fairfax was one of 60 employees alerted by Mr. Newcomer. Ms. Fairfax, and others in the call center, scrambled out into the still torrential storm just before a large portion of the 25,000-square-foot warehouse's roof crashed down.

        “He's the hero. He got us all out safely,” said a tearful Ms. Fairfax, still distraught shortly after the collapse.

        Co-worker Mia Blackwell agreed, saying “if it wasn't for him, a lot of people would be dead in that building.”

        West Chester Township Assistant Fire Chief Mike Mays said if not for the quick evacuation “we could have had deaths.”

        Eight workers were hit by falling debris and received minor injuries.

        The storm, which at times neared tornadic strength, cut southeastward across Butler County just before 3 p.m. and barreled into northern Hamilton County and then Clermont County.

        John DiStefano, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said a storm moved through the Cincinnati area for about 20 to 30 minutes, dumping large hail, some measuring an inch in diameter.

        “The rainfall was pretty heavy during the storm, with from an inch to 11/2 inches falling,” Mr. DiStefano said.

        Hamilton County Communication Center reported that the storm spread all over the county, knocking out traffic lights and blowing down trees. Wires were down in several areas.

[photo] KATE GOMEZ AND HER DAUGHTER FLORENCE, 4, PASS A TREE WHICH WAS BLOWN INTO AN APARTMENT BUILDING IN MARIEMONT.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
| ZOOM |
        No specific injuries were reported immediately after the storm.

        In Lockland, the roof was blown off the Celotex Manufacturing Plant at 320 Wayne Ave., and landed on Interstate 75, said Connie Dryer, a receptionist in the police station.

        “As far as we know no one was injured,” she said. Police were busy clearing the debris off the freeway.

        Large trees were uprooted by winds in Wyoming and Glendale.

        In Springdale, police blocked Ohio 4 south of Sharon Road near the Maple Knoll Village retirement community because of downed trees and wires in the road.

        Traffic signals were knocked out at various locations throughout the area and ponds of standing water crossed roads or filled roadside culverts. Cinergy spokeswoman Kathy Meinke said 30,000 customers had service disrupted by the storm in Butler, Hamilton, Warren and Clermont counties.

        “The hardest-hit areas seem to be Fairfield, Middletown and Milford,” Ms. Meinke said.

        She said Cinergy was calling in extra crews to help restore service. At least 15,000 homes had power restored by 5:30 p.m. Crews expected to restore power to another 7,500 homes by midnight and planned to work through the night to restore service to the remaining customers.

        In Hamilton, the storm wiped out power in parts of downtown and on the west side and deposited eight feet of water along a lower portion of High Street in the city's central downtown area.

        The weekend forecast calls for calmer weather with a return to normal with temperatures around 80 degrees today and 85 on Sunday. No precipitation is forecast.

        Reporters Allen Howard, Janice Morse, Earnest Winston, Walt Schaefer and Reid Forgrave contributed to this story.

       



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