Windham residents rally to help tornado victims; 5 houses destroyed

Two days after a tornado ripped through Windham Township, felled trees were removed, revealing damage to homes and, in many cases, growing community spirit.

At Windham Cemetery, Windham residents, high school students and Portage County Jail inmates made quick work of fallen trees.

Ryan Shackelford, director of the Portage County Emergency Management Agency, reported Friday that 25 homes had been inspected Friday afternoon and five had been destroyed. Two others had significant damage.

Windham administrators are planning a special meeting Sunday at 2 p.m. at the town hall, 9011 N. Main St. in Windham, to discuss options with residents dealing with storm damage. The EMA will be present.

Tornado details

The National Weather Service confirmed that an EF-1 tornado touched down in Windham on Wednesday around 6:45 p.m. and lasted until about 6:51 p.m. The tornado traveled nearly 4 miles with a peak speed of 110 mph.

Wednesday’s storm also caused damage on the Ohio Turnpike. Officials reported three commercial vehicles rolled over on the east side near mile marker 202.8 in Portage County.

Residents are still cleaning up

Although Friday’s light rain meant fewer residents were clearing brush, some were still hard at work cleaning up storm damage.

At Amanada Schaffer’s home on Crestview Drive on Thursday, a large tree was seen leaning upside down against the house with its roots. By Friday afternoon it was gone, leaving only significant damage to the roof.

Brush Bandit Tree Service, the company that removed the tree, turned its attention to other fallen trees on the property. Schaffer said a steady stream of family and friends had come to check on her family, as well as the American Red Cross. She said she and her fiancé received a donation of groceries.

“The outpouring was just amazing,” she said.

The Portage County Sheriff’s Office, where Schaffer works, had sent additional patrols to the home. Some of the wood was set on fire in a fire pit, which Schaffer said was mainly to keep people warm.

Like many other affected families, Schaffer and her fiancé were staying with relatives who lived nearby.

Schaffer noted that teachers from the Windham Exempted Village School District had banded together to donate a wood chipper to the relief effort, and that high school students had also volunteered. The MAK Dumpster Rental company also donated several wheelie bins to process waste. United Home Maintenance donated a truck and owner Matt Hickman helped.

“Nobody rallies like Windham rallies,” she said.

Cleveland resident finds help at Turnpike Plaza

Mike Gillis, a Cleveland resident, was driving along the Turnpike during the storm on Wednesday on his way home from Pittsburgh. He decided to stop at the rest stop at mile marker 197 in Portage County to get a cup of coffee and wait out the storm.

He said workers at the plaza moved people inside to a basement storage area once they received notifications to seek shelter. Gillis said he helped an employee tell 20 people to go to the basement.

“Amid the lockers of food, soda and all the other items being sold at the rest stop, I spoke with others there, including truck drivers, toll road workers, Wendy’s, Jimmy Johns and Dunkin Donuts employees — many of them teenagers,” Gillis said . . “Motorists who made the same decision as me were there too. I had a really nice conversation with a couple from Seattle who were traveling across the country in an RV with their now scared dog. It was a surreal moment.”

When Gillis returned home, he discovered that the storm included a tornado. He said he began to think about the “competence and professionalism” of the employee who made the snap decision to get everyone to safety.

“She knew what she had to do, and she knew she had to do it immediately,” he said. “I kept thinking about people who do their job every day and do it well – especially when it matters most. I would like to nominate this woman for Tollway Employee of the Year, if there is such a thing. Anyway, I I think she deserves some recognition.”

Emergency assistance available

Case managers from the Red Cross and Portage County Job and Family Services were established at the Renaissance Community Center, which has become a one-stop shop for community outreach. The Salvation Army also served meals to residents.

Shackelford noted that since few people went to the community center, case managers also went directly to the homes. Many of the people displaced from their homes are staying with relatives who live nearby.

Local residents were invited to contribute to the newly established Portage County Disaster Relief Fund through the Portage Foundation.

The Portage Foundation and Portage County Emergency Management Agency have teamed up to form the Portage County Disaster Relief Fund. The foundation will be the hub that accepts all monetary donations in the event of large-scale disasters affecting Portage residents.

Shackelford said the Windham community will be notified when the application process for disaster relief funding begins. He estimates that will happen in a few weeks, once residents have some idea of ​​their financial status.

Donations to the Portage County Disaster Relief Fund are accepted via credit card through the foundation’s website at: or through the foundation’s Facebook page at PortageFoundation.

Checks can be made payable to The Portage Foundation, marked “Windham Tornado” in the memo line. Checks can be mailed to The Portage Foundation, PO Box 623, Kent, OH 44240. Donations of cash or checks can also be dropped off at Portage Community Bank branches made out to Portage County Disaster Relief Fund.

The fund’s donation coordination team will provide direct payments to residents who complete an application process. Payments will be based on need. The team will include representatives from The Portage Foundation, the affected area, Portage County EMA, Portage County Jobs and Family Services and other volunteer organizations. The non-profit foundation receives 5% of donations for administration and distribution activities.

Shackelford said Neighborhood Development Services, PMHA and Habitat for Humanity will help residents rebuild their homes. Portage County, he noted, is one of only two counties statewide that has an emergency response plan, and therefore relief efforts are being handled efficiently.

Trustees worked hard to help residents, Shackelford noted.

Reporter Diane Smith can be reached at 330-298-1139 or [email protected].