VIDEO: Memories Still Fresh One Year After Tornado

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It started off as an average Thursday in September for Athens County resident Dottie Channell.  She was sitting in the sunroom of her home of 50 years and looking at the neighboring Athens High School football stadium through her windows.  In an instant, the sky turned black and her average day turned on its head. 

“Debris started going through the yard. All of a sudden, a tree come through the door, a tree come through the wall, a tree come through the window. [It] took the entertainment center over and the TV dropped at my feet. Had it come a little bit farther, it would have killed me,” Channell said.

Memories of the tornado that struck Channell and more than 400 other residences in Athens County one year ago today still resonate with many who crossed paths with the storm. A state survey reports that 51 homes had major damage from the storm and 30 homes were destroyed. No one was killed in Athens County. 

Garret Mathson drove through the tornado on his way home to The Plains. While stopped at an intersection, a tree fell on the roof of his car. Using four-wheel drive, he managed to escape.

When he arrived home, he noticed that two of his neighbor’s trailers had flipped over on their roofs. With no police or medics on the scene, he responded to what he called, “loud high-pitched screams”. He found his neighbors buried under furniture.

“Everything in their house was on top of them basically,” Mathson said. “I didn’t want to move them. I just wanted to wait until EMS got here and the Sherrifs.”

Today, trailers and homes that used to accompany Mathson’s residence are just empty lots. 

Last year’s tornado was the first to strike the region in almost 40 years. Kathleen Giehart, who chaired the Long Term Recovery Committee, felt that the community was unprepared to handle the aftermath of the disaster.

“The people who were affected, all of us who responded, had never seen a tornado in this area. Quite frankly, the surprised element stunned us all for at least 24 hours,” she said.

Director of Athens County Emergency Management Fred Davis said that the county has identified and is addressing the problems that arose from the tornado last September to ensure that the community is prepared for a similar disaster.

The Plains Volunteer Fire Department has since installed an outdoor warning sirens, but some sparsely populated and hilly areas of the county do not have access to a warning siren system.

To make certain that people are alerted about future weather disasters, Davis advises Athens County residents to purchase a NOAA weather radio. These radios broadcast official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information.