When Google put The Blade’s microfilm on line, the second event I went looking for was something I could only vaguely remember: a huge storm on the Fourth of July – 1968, 1969, 1970? – that knocked down trees, flooded streets, and generally caused havoc. (The first ‘event’ was the notice of my birth, which I didn’t find, but still caused havoc.)
My parents, away on vacation, had left my father’s parents in charge. I can remember the day being hot and humid, and suddenly towards evening, we were all running home to spend several unforgettable hours in our basement. No electricity, lots of wind, rain, and the nearby tornado siren at Old Orchard School going off more than once. But for the most part, we dodged a bullet.
It was a Friday night, July 4, 1969, and while we always referred to it as the July Fourth Storm, years later I learned that the night was a documented weather event and even had a name: The Ohio Fireworks Derecho.
“Where were you during the Fourth of July storm?” wrote Tom Gearhart in the Sunday, July 6 issue of The Blade.
That question is likely to be asked countless times in the next few years, both by those who weathered the wind and rain that shook the city Friday night, and by persons returning to northwestern Ohio to see its awful aftermath.
The storm may have been the most violent in Toledo’s history, but few persons need to be told that fact…
A derecho is a widespread and long lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms. Sometimes tornadoes are associated with them; sometimes not. Who knew? Not me, at age 6. But Toledo had both that night, and it was a night I still remember, and the evening is probably buried in the memory of many now-adults.
The next-morning coverage told how “at least three other funnel clouds touched down briefly in the Toledo Area during a tornado watch that kept the city on edge throughout the entire Fourth of July evening. …
“Storm damage was heavy in all sections of the city. Trees were uprooted, and branches blown about like toothpicks, smashing into homes and blocking streets, knocking down power lines in many locations. Large areas of the city were without electrical power during the storm. … ”
Heavy flooding affected a substation in an area which served the Sylvania-Bancroft-Secor area (quite a large area) and parts of Ottawa Hills. When it shorted out, the loud explosions and fire generated reports of a plane crash in the area. Edison also said a steel tower which carried a 138,000 volt line to the east of Toledo went down, cutting power to parts of Ottawa County.
Friday’s paper reported no local casualties, except for a Toledo man killed at Cedar Point in Sandusky when a tree fell on him.
In the Sunday paper, however, three other deaths were attributed to the storm: a man who jumped into Maumee Bay to escape a fire on his boat, and two people – one a 17-year-old Start High student and an Oregon man – who touched live wires. Monday’s paper reported that a fifth man, a Toledo Edison employee, was electrocuted Sunday. Eventually, 18 deaths were attributed to the storm that started in Michigan, plowed through Ohio and ended up in Pennsylvania.
Over 5,000 trees were knocked down. Over four inches of rain fell, a record at the time for any July day. A wall fell at the Continental Inn along the Detroit-Toledo Expressway near the Turnpike. A tree fell on the roof of the Kent branch of the public library (the same branch would burn down five years later during the snowstorm on December 1, 1974).
The widespread scope of the damage became apparent. Port Clinton was hit especially hard, and the storm went east to Cleveland and into Pennsylvania before dissipating.
Power was still out over a wide area. Underpasses along the Detroit-Toledo Expressway were small lakes. An 8-million gallon water and oil storage basin overflowed at the Sun Oil refinery in East Toledo, creating a lake of oily water in the Navarre/Coyne area around the Toledo Terminal Railroad overpasses.
Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of Toledoans braved Friday night’s storm to voluntarily take places beside police, firemen, utility trouble crews, and others trying to limit the chaos unleashed by the elements.
Seemingly coming out of nowhere, the citizen volunteers materialized in the dark and deluge that drenched the city, taking to the streets in every section of the town…they guided traffic, pushed stalled cars through high water, and opened their homes to persons temporarily stranded by the water. …
Numerous instances of volunteer assistance to stranded motorists in almost every section of the city were reported to The Blade Saturday.
Monday’s paper had an editorial commending police and firemen, the public sector generally – including Mayor Bill Ensign and his officials – as well as utility workers and private citizens. So, pretty much everybody. “It was, in all, an inspiring demonstration of a community meeting a crisis unselfishly and with a minimum of disorder.”
A week later, after the damage had been cleared and the estimates tallied up, the news moved on to another big event getting ready in Florida: the launch of Apollo 11.
A year later, a story that offered a historical perspective – $20 million in damage in Lucas County alone, a state death toll that exceeded 40 – began:
Remember the Fourth of July, 1969?
How could anybody forget?
Some good reading:
July 5, 1969
July 6, 1969