Many residents in the Youngstown area talk about the Newton Falls-Niles-Wheatland, PA F-5 tornado of May 31st 1985. Driving with my grandparents up Belmont Avenue to the airport north of Vienna, my grandfather pointed out where a tornado passed through that area a number of year earlier.
The tornado was on June 7, 1947, seventy-five years ago and it followed a similar track, about three miles to the north. I remember my grandparents talking about that area as being a “tornado alley.” This tornado began in the Silver Lakes area of Cuyahoga Falls, passed just north of Ravenna, near the arsenal, on to the DeForest area between Niles and Warren (a little north of Newton Falls), a couple miles south of Vienna, crossing Belmont and doing significant damage on Smith Stewart Road and Youngstown-Vienna Road before roaring over West Hill in Sharon going through the residential section of the city, damaging over 1,000 homes, striking the Gordon Ward Pontiac dealership and garage. It then went on into Mercer County.
The storm was classified an F-4 tornado, which has wind speeds between 207 and 260 mph. It struck around 2:30 pm in the Niles-Vienna area. At the airport, personnel saw a “black cone-shaped cloud” to the south as 65 mile per hour winds and two inch hail punctured the wings of aircraft. While this storm missed Newton Falls, it was so dark, street lights were turned on and one witness said “It was so dark you could just barely see your hand in front of you.” The storm inflicted heavy damage to homes on Niles-Vienna Road (where the family pictured above lived) and Youngstown-Vienna Road, where two people died, and Smith Stewart Road, where a woman and her grandchild died.
The storm arrived in Sharon about 3:15 pm. As it came over West Hill, it cut a 600 foot wide swath through the residential district. Two men were killed at the Gordon Ward dealership and garage, which collapsed on them. A 26 year-old mechanic, Michael Marenchin, was sucked out into the air “and away I went like Superman.” He landed atop debris, badly injured but survived. (Source: The Herald, “Eye of the Storm.”). Power and phone service was out throughout the city.
Before the storm dissipated, it struck the Mercer County fairgrounds, leaving much of it, including the grandstand, in ruins.
Hundreds of people were injured and over 600 were left homeless, depending on the help of the Red Cross. Hospitals across the area were jammed with the injured, over 100 in all, over 35 requiring hospitalization. Damages were estimated in excess of $1,500,000. Homes were reduced to matchsticks. Others were blown off their foundations. Survivors in the path of the storm sheltered in cellars to emerge to shattered houses. Cars, stoves, and tractors went airborne.
I hope I never find myself in the path of a tornado. Reading stories like these remind me how important it is to take tornado warnings seriously. Today, we have the means to give people ten to fifteen minutes to find shelter rather than a minute or two. And I think if I lived north of Youngstown, I’d keep a special lookout…
To read other posts in the Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown series, just click “On Youngstown.” Enjoy!