Severe storms plowed through Ohio and seven other states late Monday, killing a Celina man as he slept in his home and injuring as many as 130 people by the time they ended Tuesday morning. Storm reports indicate 53 tornadoes may have hit, and the National Weather Service already confirmed at least four in Ohio.

Celina, in Mercer County in western Ohio, and communities near Dayton bore the brunt of the storm.

"There's areas that truly look like a war zone," Celina Mayor Jeffrey Hazel said Tuesday.

The Weather Service said the tornado that ravaged Celina was at least an EF3. A 1976 Chevrolet Station Wagon blew into a house, killing 82-year-old Melvin Dale Hanna. Seven other people were injured in the storm, and at least 40 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Wendy Knapke lived next door to Hanna. She said the vehicle parked at the house on the other side of her apparently was picked up by the tornado, flew over her house and crashed into the back half of Hanna's home. He lived alone and his body was discovered in his bedroom. The front portion of the gray brick home was relatively undamaged.

Hanna, who went by Dale, "was really an incredible father and an incredible man," she said.

"He lost his wife five years ago, and ever since he's been really involved in church. He hosted all kind of card nights and was really an incredible neighbor. He mowed our lawn.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared a state of emergency in the three hardest-hit counties: Greene, Mercer and Montgomery.

Ashley and Joey Braun knew there were tornado warnings for Celina, but they have no basement in which to escape.

A colleague alerted Joey Braun, a math teacher at the intermediate school, to 100 mph winds heading their direction. The Brauns ran for the bathroom.

The storm hit just as soon as they shut the door.

“The lights turned off and he told me ‘Get in the bathtub now!’ ” Ashley Braun said. “My ears popped like I was riding in an airplane. The second they unpopped, it just got really quiet until it sounded like a freight train going around.”

Once the storm passed, Joey Braun assessed the damage.

“We looked and you could just see debris on the floor,” Ashley Braun said. “I could look into where the kitchen is and just see sky. I felt rain.”

Storm reports posted online by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center showed that 14 suspected tornadoes hit in Indiana, 11 in Colorado and nine in Ohio. Six were reported in Iowa, five in Nebraska, four in Illinois and three in Minnesota, with one in Idaho.

The National Weather Service also confirmed that an EF3 tornado with winds up to 140 mph hit the Dayton-area community of Trotwood and Beavercreek in Greene County. It is working to determine if the same tornado hit both communities. It also confirmed two tornadoes in Pickaway County, one south of Circleville and one in the southeast part of the county. NWS is still surveying the damage in Hocking County.

It might be Thursday before the Weather Service determines how many tornadoes were involved, said Myron Padgett, a meteorologist with the service in Wilmington, Ohio.

"We have people out that are looking at the damage," Padgett said.

Matt Bruning, press secretary for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said midday Tuesday that most of the major highways and interstates were open.

Snowplows were used within an hour of the storms hitting and removed warped pieces of sheet metal, large wood debris from structures and tree limbs strewn across Interstate 75.

Outbreaks of 50 or more tornadoes have happened 63 times in U.S. history, with three instances on record of more than 100 twisters, said Patrick Marsh of the Storm Prediction Center. That includes a deadly April 27, 2011, "super outbreak" of 173 tornadoes.

As these storm-ravaged communities began the difficult task of cleaning up, many stepped up to help and offer their support.

In the midst of the destruction, people with construction equipment came in to help clear wood, shingles and other debris from front yards. The local Rotary Club provided food to people working on the cleanup.

Ron Snider, whose home was nearly destroyed in the tornado, could not believe the outpouring of support.

“Half the people that were here this morning, I didn’t know their names,” he said. “They came in and worked, pitched in and just asked, ‘What can we do?’

“I have every intention in the world of seeing this house built back up again. We’re fine, we’re alive and thankful.”

 

 

The Associated Press and Dispatch reporter Bill Bush contributed to this story. Reach Ben Deeter at bdeeter@dispatch.com; on Twitter @BenDeeter. Reach Beth Burger at bburger@dispatch.com; on Twitter @BethBurger.