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Tornado causes damage to nearby OARDC

A violent storm ripped through Wooster last Thursday, Sept. 16. At around 5:30 p.m., a strong tornado emerged from the southwest and collided directly with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute, producing considerable damage to one of the institutions. Fortunately, the twister injured no one, as most employees had already left the campus. In his interview with Wooster’s city newspaper The Daily Record, OARDC Associate Director Bill Ravlin elaborated: “Fortunately for us, it was 5:30 [p.m.] and most of the people were gone; only a handful were in the building. We have not heard of any injuries. We were very, very fortunate.”

The tornado produced winds up to 130 miles per hour and had a damage area of up to 200 yards at its widest point. Remaining on the ground for 12 minutes before lifting, it significantly damaged the roofs of some homes and barns in the area. Unfortunately the OARDC and the ATI received the blunt of the force as the twister cut across campus blowing out windows, ripping down power lines, tossing and overturning cars, and uprooting trees.

No noteworthy structural damage was done to ATI buildings, however at the OARDC both greenhouses were completely destroyed, along with a lab building, which housed the office of United States Department of Agriculture† engineer Heping Zhu. Staring at the pile of rubble, he told The Daily Record he had recently purchased a piece of equipment worth around $100,000, which ill-fatedly was under the mess of collapsed building, along with the rest of his documents and files. “My entire lab is gone…my office is now destroyed … my experiments that were just set are now gone,” Zhu told The Record.

One employee still on campus, custodian Terry Smith, sought refuge in Fischer auditorium, but after realizing it was already structurally damaged fled to a more secure location in the bathroom.† Smith understood just how lucky it was that more people were not on campus, stating in his interview to The Daily Record, “If it were just an hour earlier, who knows what would’ve happened … it could have been worse.”

Another adverse site was the destruction of the Secrest Arboretum, the walkway whose trees could not stand up to the tornado’s fierce winds. Many of the trees were more than 100 years old, planted by the Arboretum’s founder Edmund Secrest. OARDC Director Steve Slack expressed his sadness in seeing the obliteration of this historic site, telling the Record, “There is no way you can bring the arboretum to the grace and beauty that was there just two days ago.”

It will still be some time before a number can be assigned to the amount of physical damage the OARDC suffered. Furthermore, researchers are already weary of the unintended damage that took place. The unrelenting tornado may have cost the OARDC even more in terms of research projects that fell victim to the storm.

However, in the wake of the twister, there is a positive light to this story. It is both remarkable and quite fortuitous that no one was injured by the storm, and the clean up effort is already well under way, working to restore the OARDC to its condition prior to the storm.

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