July 4, 1969 Fireworks Derecho: Viewers share their memories

CLEVELAND - It is known as the Ohio Fireworks Derecho of 1969. A line of storms so massive and strong they lasted for hours and traveled across several states. The worst of these storms impacted every city and county in Northern Ohio from Toledo to Conneaut south to Wooster, Canton and Youngstown.

In all, 41 people died in Ohio during the storms, 25 due to drowning. Nearly 500 other people were injured. More than 10,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Damage in today's dollars would be well over $1 billion.

Many Northern Ohioans have vivid memories of that night and have shared them via social media. Here are their stories:

Mary Johnson : "My cat blew away and came home a few months later. Seriously! My cat was missing for 2 months."
 
Pam Aitchison: "I was 13 when the storm was beginning and I remember going to Edgewater marina to tie our boat off before the worst of the storm. Unlike other boaters who added buoys and floats to their boats, my dad talked the boat owners beside him to tie off to each other. Kind of a one goes down they all go down mentality. The storm damaged one which stayed afloat because it was tied off to us but ours and the other survived. The day after the storm we take the boat and surveyed the damage. My job was on the bow spotting debri in the water. When we got to 55th street marina there were boats capsized and sunk, a boat graveyard so still. I remember having to alert my dad to a the top of mast jutting out maybe two feet in the water-it was attached to a 26 ft sailboat."
 
Jacqueline Borsick-Welling: "I was 14 at the time and remember it like yesterday. My family and I were at our roadside produce market on Rte 250 in Sandusky, Ohio. It is the vacant land now across the street from Kalahari. The winds blew up so fast we didn't have time to do much to batten down the hatches. A motorist came into the gravel parking lot, got out and stated to complain about one of our signs that had hit his car as things were flying through the air around us. My dad told him to get in his car. We had a 35-40 ft. airstream on the property that was bouncing up and down with some of us kids in it. I myself was trying to cover a big pile of watermelons with a tarp just as the wind took the green corigated (spelling) fiberglass roof off and hail started pelting me. The top layer of melons had holes in them 2 inches around and the stones went almost all the way through. We lost a lot of produce that day but thankfully we all survived with just a few bumps and bruises. It reminds me to this day of scenes from The Wizard of Oz."
PennyBrownWebber: "I was at Tuscora Park in New Philadelphia, Oh watching the fireworks with my then husband. (We divorced the following year). The fireworks were over and we headed to the car, by the time we headed out of Dover, it was raining. Got home to Brewster in a downpour!! The next morning my sister called to say that a couple roads were flooded. Well I wasn't going to let a little flood keep me from taking some pictures. The husband & I headed our way to Dover/New Philly. By the time we got to Dover, My in laws received a call from my sister to say that all roads in/out of Brewster were flooded!. Roads in Dover/ New Philly were also flooded and closed. I was STUCK in Dover at my OUT laws for 3 days & 2 nights!!! WAY too long a time, considering they didn't even like me. ughhhhhhhhh Brewster had been flooded many times. But I think that was the worst. I also remember the floods of '59, '79. I was so afraid of what 1999 would bring ! lol I believe Brewster was flooded in 49 too, but I was way too young then."

Christine McCafferty Tretinik : "Mark, I remember being on my uncles boat. The Arcara

out on the lake and the sky was becoming that pea soup green so we headed in with the boat. We docked and got in the car and the rains started. We made it home but received a call that my uncles boat had sunk at Edgewater Yacht Club. Many people did not make it in off the lake. There were hundreds of boaters trying to come in at the same time. We were lucky and smart enough to get a move on the moment the sky changed. It was a very ominous green sky."

Cathy Nestic-Tagliarini : "Mark, I remember being on the freeway trying to get home from a 4th of July party that day in 1969. My dad was driving, my mom was praying, and my three brothers and I were in the back seat wondering what all those orange cones were doing flying by the car windows and if we were even going to make it home. We were only going from Wickliffe to Mentor and my dad couldn't see anything but down pours of rain and swirling winds. I will never forget that awful day. And, to tell you the truth - it usually ends up raining and storming sometime on every 4th of July since!!! MEMORIES can become actual yearly events.... da,da, dum.....:)"
 
Gail Lindeman Noernberg : Was walking to the Oberlin field with my date to see the fireworks. It started storming and he grabbed me and we ran to Allen Memorial Hospital back door. On the way there we found a kitten all alone and crying one of the nurses took it and said she would make sure it was ok. We stayed there until we could drive me home..it was a horrid drive. I was supposed to sing at a wedding that day in grafton and never even made it close to there...Every road was flooded. The bride had her wedding just she her groom the minister and her parents no light no water. They are still married after 45 years.
 
Bonnie Sheeter : "My husband and our friends took an unexpected trip to Pa. Could not find a motel so the four of us slept in the car. When we came home we found Wooster flooded,. To get my husband and I home we had to go up to Burbank and back to our home in little Millbrook. My husband worked for the County Highway Dept at the time, so he had some long hard hours ahead of him. There were 11 drownings reported in the Wooster area."
 
Michelle Mazur : "My mom talks about this storm like every year lol. She still lived at my grandma's house in Berea. She and her sister were home and I think the rest of the family was camping. They ended up with something like three feet of water in Grandma's basement. My grandparents were camping in Clay Park and they woke everyone up in the middle of the night and told them to hurry up and get out, the campground was flooding. So they threw everything down and left, still in their pajamas. Apparently they just made it over the bridge out of town before the bridge flooded over. Then they had to drive home in the storm. Mom said the storm must have lasted around 7 hours. She called the night from hell."
 
Debbie Hanson Kivela : "I remember we were having a cookout at home, on Jefferson Road. Skies got dark.. a wall cloud came over, then the sky turned yellow-green.I kept watching, and then wisps of dark clouds came spinning from the bottom of the wall cloud, like an upside -down cotton candy machine As they formed into a funnel, we dove under the pool table, but could see outside the sliding glass doors, as rain and darker skies blurred the yard... but we could see lawn furniture , and anything that wasn't tied down from the neighborhood, go flying by sideways, well up in the air! Later we heard a barn roof had been lifted and dropped onto Rt 84, near the CEI..News reports weren't too good in those days, people would just clean up and go on...I had left the windows down in my 63 Chevy , parked out front. When I checked the car after the storm, I found leaves, twigs and debris under the bench seat! The entire car was saturated with water,roof to carpet. Some lady reported she saw a funnel cloud tearing up the tops of trees, but said, "It couldn't have been a tornado, because it was white.." oh my... hope people are more weather educated nowdays."
 
Dale Dockus : "Marched in the Copley Jr. High Band in the Fairlawn July 4th parade in the early evening. Right after the parade ended (at least an hour before sunset), the sky became as black as I'd ever seen it (to this day!). My mom & dad were planning to meet me under a Summit Mall department store entrance (Polsky's?) at a certain time, which they did -- and I got soaked just getting in their car. Impressive lightning and winds for sure."
 
Jeffrey R. Carson : "Was 11 years old. We were going to down to Edgewater ( Parent's) and pick up my Aunt and go to Lakewood Park for the Fireworks. We made it as far as Hampton and Hilliard. Dad took one look at the Sky, turned the car around, sped up Hampton, said "You and your Mother get in the Basement , Now." Next day I went up to McBeth Dr . every tree was uprooted. I will never forget it."
 
Philip Maher : "I recall heading out with my
family on our boat to watch the fireworks in Fairport Harbor; I was 10 at the time. As we came out the mouth of the Grand River there was the darkest wall of clouds I had ever seen. My dad simply turned around and headed back in much to all my siblings and my displeasure. We tied up and the skies were still sunny not knowing the full brunt of what was to set upon us. As we milled around the dock areas, the water suddenly receded about a foot and after a short period it then rose about a foot. Again I had never seen anything like it but as a kid, thought it was very cool. My dad did the most prudent thing and took the anchor from our boat and wrapped it around a tree further on shore and we left for home. Overnight I remember hearing winds unlike anything I had heard before and we were all rather scared. The next morning we went to check on our boat and it was one of only a handful in the marina that was either not sunk or had not broken from its moorings and floated out into the lake. To this day it is a very vivid memory!"
 
Terri Gazso Orosz : "I was about 6, we were at my parents friends house in Mentor. We were mad we had to get out of the pool when the storm hit, but my dad, who loves storms (and is now a Natl Weather Service Skywarn Weather Spotter and Cocorahs spotter with me) stayed out to watch the storm. Of course I had to stay with him. When the wind started to really get bad he told me to go in, but he stayed in his lounge chair. Just before I got in, it hit really bad, and I turned to see him and his chair rolling across the back yard. He was fine. The power went out. When we finally started home for Wickliffe, I remember having to take a lot of detours because of so many downed trees and damaged home. It was light out by the time we got home. Huge trees were across roads and some houses. Since then, That storm made me the Weather Geek I am today!"
 
Mary Anne Hadden Barnes : "My husband and I moved to Lakewood shortly before the 4th and only knew one next door neighbor couple who went out of town for the holiday. My husband was in Camp Drum with the Army Reserves for two weeks and I was 37 weeks pregnant with our first child and home alone with our dog. The storm hit suddenly right before 8 pm and was so scary! I immediately went into labor. After it stopped, the whole street was a mess with trees, debree and branches down everywhere-- on cars, homes and the streets. There were ambulance and police sirens screaming constantly, (I learned later that people died at Lakewood Park). I kept having contractions and couldn't call anyone so I picked up my dog and knocked on doors until I found someone who's car was free who could take me to the hospital. Because so many roads were blocked, these nice strangers took me to Lakewood Hospital because it was closer and took my dog home with them. All my paperwork and my Doctor were at Fairview Hospital and there was no phone service. Luckily, the nurses found a Doctor to see me and I finally had a beautiful baby girl on July 5th! Not quite the perfect birth I had planned at all! The Army let my husband drive home to see us for 24 hours after Red Cross notified him. My family couldn't get in to see me for a couple days from Lake County, because everything was so damaged! It was quite the Fourth of July! I remember it vividly each year! Thank heaven for those very kind strangers! I still panic a little when storms are forecast! Thank heaven we have such awesome coverage from you and your team now, Mark. There was no warning at all that year!"
 
David Close : "My sister & brother -in-law were camping on the Vermilion River , After the rain started coming down they couldn`t get their car up the hill, leaving it along with a boat and camper. They later found their car two miles downstream filled with river silt. They never saw their boat or camper again."
 
Donna Winkhart Lab : "The July 4th Flood of 1969 is something I will never forget. I had an appointment to have my hair done in Brewster. As I left Navarre for my appointment that morning and crossed the Tuscarawas River bridge I knew it was dangerously high; but figured I wouldn't be gone long. As it turned out all the bridges were UNDER water on my return trip home. I traveled the back roads to Massillon, then took old Rt 21 home. I am certain the Fireworks that year were canceled too. I actually thought about the flood of 1969 after all the rain we have had recently. Hope it doesn't happen again."

 


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