GIRARD - A possible tornado near Tod Park ripped through the surrounding neighborhood Sunday afternoon, leaving hundreds of trees and limbs scattered and several homes damaged.
Officials said no one was injured and the storm passed through in less than two minutes, seemingly on a straight line down Park Avenue. Residents said the storm emerged quickly at about 2:30 p.m. and passed just as fast. The storm also affected Liberty and Hubbard.
The National Weather Service in Cleveland said they were unable to confirm that the funnel cloud touched the ground late Sunday. Meteorologist Robert LaPlante said the agency would talk with local officials and determine Monday whether the storm was a tornado or a straight-line wind storm.
Lawrence Avenue S.E. resident Roger Banyots said he organized a family reunion at Tod Park for Sunday afternoon. He and a few family members were at the park when they decided to call it off. Some stayed and they watched in amazement as the funnel cloud started to descend.
''It sounded like the water was running,'' Banyots said. ''I looked straight ahead and I could see it start to come towards us. The branches were snapping and debris was flying. I turned to my cousin and told everyone to run.''
One cousin remained inside one of the buildings. Banyots said he turned to go back to warn her when he looked up and saw the funnel cloud directly above him.
This shot, taken Sunday afternoon by Girard resident Karen Colapietro, shows a funnel cloud forming from the Walmart parking lot in Liberty. Hundreds of trees and limbs were downed and several houses damaged, primarily in the Girard area, by what was either a tornado or straight-line wind storm.
Special to the Tribune Chronicle / Karen Colapietro
''I saw debris flying all around me,'' Banyots said. ''Rain was coming down all around me, but I wasn't getting rained on at all.
''I could have died,'' Banyots shouted to some friends he was helping.
Bernice Kren said she was talking to her son on the phone when she noticed the weather starting to turn. She went inside her 1000 Gary Ave. home and peeked out her window to see her husband running into the house.
Minutes later, the storm ripped a hole through the top of their roof, the most serious damage caused by the storm.
Kren's home was flooded about five years ago, her basement submerged in water. Walls had collapsed because of the flood and Kren, who has lived at the Gary Avenue residence for nearly four decades, held back tears when she thought of the destruction.
''I'm leaving. I'm getting out of here,'' she said. ''I'm moving away. I'm a wreck.''
One block west, Andrew Sowers of 994 Ward Ave. said he heard what he thought was a hard rain, but when he looked outside, he saw white and the wind whipping. He grabbed his kids and ran downstairs.
The storm flung his children's playground equipment about 30 feet. The wind lifted a small shed from behind his garage up and over his house and dropped it in his driveway on his red Dodge SUV. It never touched the house and only scratched the vehicle, Sowers said.
''When I looked outside, I saw one of the kids' rubber rafts about 100 feet in the air,'' he said. ''The scary thing was is that there was no warning.''
About 100 customers in Girard and Liberty lost power because of the storm, said Robin Patton, an Ohio Edison spokeswoman, and the National Weather Service reported 16 trees were down on Warner Road in Hubbard, including eight pine trees that snapped in half and one that fell on a car.
Dozens of tree service employees removed trees that fell on top of roofs and in yards in Girard, the city most affected by the storm.
The storm disturbed areas on Park Avenue from U.S. Route 422 through Villa Place, about a mile and a half. The most damage occurred on Park Avenue between Lincoln Avenue S.E. and Gary Avenue S.E. Homes on each side of the road were affected differently, but three houses north or south of the road appeared untouched.
Hundreds of people walked or drove through the neighborhood in the hours after the storm. Some took pictures and video of large uprooted oak trees and a telephone pole that snapped but was still standing at Park Avenue and Lincoln Avenue S.E.
Residents said they heard and saw the storm, then heard warning sirens about three minutes after the storm left the area.
Girard Mayor James Melfi said he talked to residents who told him the funnel had touched down.
''I'm astonished by the damage,'' Melfi said. ''I'm very pleased no one was hurt. Looking around at the damage we're lucky that no one was severely hurt or worse.''
LaPlante said the storm registered weakly on the radar. He said some storms are difficult to pick up because of the location of the radar equipment. In this case, the closest radar equipment is located in Pittsburgh and along with equipment in Cleveland.
LaPlante radar picked up minimal rotation.
He said the NWS can determine if the funnel was a tornado or a straight-line wind storm based on several factors, including how the debris was scattered. LaPlante said if the debris appeared as if it was pushed toward one direction, it would likely be a straight-line storm. If the debris was scattered in a circular pattern, or if projectiles ripped through homes, it would be considered a tornado.
''It really formed under a thunder shower,'' LaPlante said.
While most people said they took cover when they heard the storm rolling through, Larry Kortes got in the car with his 22-year-old son and followed it.
Kortes said he used to be storm chaser for the NWS when it had an office at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport. He said he saw several vortices - smaller swirling cloud formations - near the major funnel on Sunday.
Kortes, who said he was unable to completely confirm the funnel touched the ground but believed it did, said he followed it east on state Route 304 into Hubbard and watched it ascend into the sky in a field near Bell Wick Bowling.
''It was definitely a tornado,'' Kortes said. ''There were always obstructions in the way, but I'm pretty sure it touched down.''