Cardington, OH Tornado, June 1981

A Whole Town In Ruin

CARDINGTON, Ohio (AP) -- Eyewitnesses said it lasted less than two minutes. But when it was over, "the whole town was gone."
Four people were killed and more than 50 were injured Saturday as a tornado swirled down Main Street in this north-central Ohio town of 2,000, heavily damaging 171 homes and 29 businesses. Every building in Cardington's nine-block downtown district was damaged, and 50 people were homeless.
Because of the town's size, said Gov. James Rhodes, the tornado was the worst, proportionately, ever to hit an Ohio community.
On Sunday, as rescue workers poked through the devastation beneath clear skies, at least 100 people were still missing. Authorities said most were expected to turn up as telephone service got back to normal. Only one telephone was operating sporadically in Cardington, and some phone service was out in a 10-mile area around the town.
Rhodes walked through the town Sunday and then flew back to Columbus, 50 miles away, to contact federal disaster officials.
The governor promised to rebuild Cardington's downtown.
"We're going to level the town," Rhodes said. "We hope there'll be a beautiful community when we get through."
Rhodes also wrote to President Reagan asking that he declare Cardington a major disaster area, to make it eligible for federal aid.
The destruction began about 3:45 p.m. Saturday. BETTY WHALEY, who was in a diner with her husband, said, "Somebody hollered, 'hit the floor!'"
"We hit the floor. By that time, mud hit the windows and we couldn't see anything," she said. "It lasted a minute or two. We came out, and you wouldn't believe the town -- everything is gone. The whole town is gone."
"It pretty well tore the town up," said Sheriff's Deputy CARROLL SEARS.
An apartment complex was heavily damaged when the tornado entered down from the west and headed straight down Main Street, destroying a grain elevator, flattening a trailer park, and smashing up buildings for a block in either direction.
Killed were DONALD W. CARSON, a 9-month-old infant who died of storm-related injuries; LEO BINGMAN, described as being in his late 60s, who died of a heart attack; MAXINE DANNER, 67, whose cause of death was not immediately available; and THELMA OLSEN, 62, who died Sunday after being pulled from wreckage.
Fifty-three people were treated for injuries, said JOHN HARBOUGH, a supervisor nearby at Morrow County Hospital, where people waited for news of missing or injured relatives. Eleven were admitted and six others were taken for treatment to Mansfield General Hospital.
TEDDY SHERMAN, 14, said the storm demolished his father's hardware store as he took shelter.

Gainesville (Fla.) Sun -- June 15,1981