Niles slammed by F5 force
By DAVID ROBERTS
NILES – Thirty years have passed since an F5 tornado roared through Trumbull County, causing death and destruction.
It was about 6:30 p.m. May 31, 1985, when the tornado came from Portage County to the west and struck Newton Falls, where it decimated most of the downtown. No life was lost.
The storm made its way through Lordstown and Weathersfield before becoming an F5 – the most severe class of tornado on the Fujita scale – in Niles, which had catastrophic damage and death.
The storm powered into Hubbard and then crossed the state line into Pennsylvania, where it left considerable damage in Wheatland before finally dissipating after its 41-mile path of destruction.
At its zenith, the storm was a quarter-mile wide with wind speeds as high as 300 mph.
“I was working that night,” Niles fire Chief David Danielson said. “We were standing out front of the station watching it move in and thinking where it was going to hit.”
Danielson said firefighters were ready to respond as the storm rolled in.
“When we got the call that the convenience store (on state Route 46) was hit, we hurried off and couldn’t believe the destruction we saw everywhere,” Danielson said.
“Recovery was definitely hard because such big of an area had been hit,” Danielson said. “We thought to ourselves, ‘Where do we go first?'”
Niles police Capt. Ken Criswell was right in the thick of the storm.
“I was driving up Route 46 and just watching it tear through the cemetery,” Criswell said. “I was too young to be afraid. Honestly, it was all kind of surreal.”
Niles police Capt. David Smathers said he was at Giant Eagle for a call about a shoplifter. He said he went to call in his location and the radios were not working. Then he spotted the tornado on U.S. Route 422.
Smathers said he headed toward the tornado but had his car died near the Niles fire station on state Route 46. He went to nearby Niles Union Cemetery and began helping people from the vehicles.
Former Niles fire Chief Gary Brown said he remembers being on his way to a date because he knew nothing of a storm that evening. When he left his house on Fifth Street, the skies were clear, he said. When he went past his fire station, though, he noticed strange trucks parked there and he had to check it out.
“I walked into the station and I didn’t relax for six days,” Brown said.