As destructive as the F1 tornado that hit Grove City on April 3 was, Mayor Ike Stage describes himself as thankful.
"An F1 tornado is something Grove City has never had to face before, to my knowledge," he said. "When you think about what can happen with a storm like this, we're blessed that no one was injured and that the property damage was fairly limited."
An F1 tornado has wind speeds of 73 to 112 mph, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and can cover a path between 18 and 55 yards wide. The lower speed limit is equivalent to the beginning of hurricane wind speed and can cause moderate damage to houses. Tornadoes are ranked from F0 to F5.
Last week's F1 tornado caused damage to about 450 residences in the southern portion of the city, mostly in the Margie's Cove/Orders Road, Courtyards on Hoover and Christina Villas subdivisions.
"The type of damage runs the gamut, but most of it is roofs, windows or siding damage," said Don Walters, the city's community relations officer.
Most residents have been able to return to their homes, Walters said April 9. Three homes remained uninhabitable.
Residents were not allowed to return to their homes until the city's building department conducted an inspection, Stage said.
A cost estimate of the total damage caused by the tornado is still being determined, Walters said.
As April 4 began, about 1,900 residents in and around Grove City were without power, Walters said. Damage was centered in the southern part of the city, near Grove City High School, 4665 Hoover Road. Several South-Western schools were closed April 4 due to the power outages, including Grove City High School, Jackson Middle School, Hayes and Park Street intermediate schools, Buckeye Woods and J.C. Sommer elementary schools, South-Western Preschool Center and the Bostic Center.
By April 9, power had been restored to all but about 40 residences.
Everyone was expected to have their power restored by April 10, Walters said.
Touring the affected areas was like nothing he had ever seen, Stage said.
"We've had other storms that have caused extensive damage, like the hail storm in 1980, but this was at another level because of all of the downed power lines and poles this tornado caused," he said.
Many residents were in effect trapped in their houses because the downed lines made it unsafe for them to venture out, Jackson Township fire Chief Randy Little said.
The fire department's first task after the storm hit was to conduct a risk assessment and make sure no one was hurt, he said.
"Once we determined that no one was injured, we worked with the police department and (American) Red Cross to provide the assistance people needed while their power was out," Little said.
That assistance included transporting residents with illnesses or whose medical-assist devices needed power to hospitals or the emergency shelters set up at the Evans Center and the Grove City YMCA, Little said.
"We also helped the police department and the Red Cross to take people to a grocery store or drug store to get food or other supplies they needed," he said.
The YMCA welcomed about 103 people to its facility on Discovery Drive during the first few days after the storm, said Doug Stickel, executive director at the Grove City YMCA.
"We set up cots in case people needed a place to sleep," he said. "Most people were looking for a place to take a hot shower, get some food or charge their phones."
The Grove City Church of the Nazarene was without power until April 7, but church members and other volunteers sprung into action immediately to assist storm victims and work crews, senior pastor the Rev. Dale Benson said.
"We set up a Facebook page with the hashtag #umatter to give people a way to let us know where help was needed," he said.
Church members collected food that was dropped off at the house of sports and outreach pastor John Keating, who coordinated the distribution of the meals to AEP and city crews, Jackson Township fire stations, Grove City police and residents in the neighborhoods that were hit by the storm, Benson said.
"John will be overseeing the ACTS in Grove City project this year and I'm sure the scope of that project will be impacted by this storm," he said.
ACTS in Grove City is a day each June when volunteers from several community churches complete projects for residents in Grove City and other southwest Franklin County communities.
On April 5, the church put out a call for 20 pizzas to serve to AEP and Environmental Management workers.
"We ended up getting more than 100 pizzas donated, which we were able to distribute to feed the workers and people in the community," Benson said.
"AEP told us they had never seen an outpouring like this from a community," he said. "Grove City's called the 'best small town in Ohio,' and I think the response the community made to this situation proved that."
Church members and volunteers also assisted with cleanup efforts in the affected areas, Benson said.
The community responded with support and, just as importantly, patience, in the wake of the storm, Stage said.
"They assisted us and cooperated and were willing to bear with us while everyone worked to get the power restored," he said.
The response to the tornado ran smoothly due to a emergency-training program that began two years ago, Stage said.
"It's an effort involving the city, Jackson Township, schools, police and fire department and Prairie and Pleasant townships," he said. "We started doing exercises to prepare for a potential weather emergency.
"It really helped because everybody knew what they were supposed to do and nobody panicked," Stage said.
After the cleanup is completed, the city and its partners will examine how the emergency preparedness worked and look for ways it can be improved if another emergency occurs, he said.
"One of the things we'll be looking at is the issue of people needing to charge their cellphones," Stage said. "That's a big problem now that so many people don't have land lines any more."
Residents were able to use the city's extensive bike-trail system as a means to leave their neighborhoods, he said.
"We were allowing residents in some places to drive their cars on the bike trails," Stage said. "It turned out to be another benefit to having a good bike-trail system."