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11-11-02: Storm causes two deaths in Van Wert
Parents, children escape theater just in time

    VAN WERT (AP) - Parents and children who had just watched "The Santa Clause 2" movie at Van Wert's Twin Cinema were evacuated to the theater's bathrooms and hallways, sparing them from a deadly tornado that blew two cars into the theater.
    Van Wert bore the brunt of a violent string of storms that spawned tornadoes and killed five statewide Sunday, including two people in Van Wert.
    An early tornado warning led the manager to move 50 movie patrons into the theater's structurally sound areas, the only areas that weren't destroyed after Sunday's storms. No-body in the theater was injured.       mergency officials credited the theater manager with saving lives.
    "It could have been a real tragedy," said Jack Snyder, spokesman for Van Wert County Emergency Management Agency. "We consider ourselves very lucky."
    Theater owner Jim Boyd, whose house next door to the theater also was destroyed, said today: "The Lord was looking out for us and our customers.''
    "Our entire life went away in a matter of five minutes. But we're alive and we're extremely lucky,'' said Boyd, who was a mile away visiting his mother when the tornado hit.
   Rick McCoy, county Emergency Management Agency director, had activated the countywide tornado sirens and urged people to move to safe places.
  "They had 28 minutes ... where the management moved all the children and their families into the center cinderblock portion of this facility, and that's withstood,'' McCoy said on NBC's "Today'' show. "The rest of the cinema is gone.''
  Raymond Moore said his 22-year-old daughter was leaving the theater when she saw the tornado and ran back inside and went into the bathroom. "She watched the roof come right off the building,'' Moore said.
    This morning, the lobby and front of the theater were all that appeared intact. Two arcade games and a popcorn machine still stood.
    The rest was torn away or collapsed. Rows of blue-cushioned seats - littered with wood and plaster - sat open to the sky, and two wrecked cars came to rest where "The Santa Clause 2'' had been showing, one in the front-row of seats, the other where the screen had been.
    The storms, which rumbled from Louisiana to Pennsylvania, killed two people in Van Wert County and three others in Ohio.
    McCoy said the tornado was a half-mile wide when it hit Van Wert. "We've just had devastating destruction in this county,'' he said.
    Van Wert resident Karen Shivley said the sky became eerily black by late afternoon Sunday as rain pelted her home near the center of the city.
    "It got dark real fast and we heard it rain but I didn't really believe it was all that windy until I started hearing about the damage later," she told The Daily Standard this morning. "I couldn't believe what happened."
    Shivley's home sustained no damage but just a few blocks away, others weren't so fortunate, she said.
    Shivley's daughter, a nurse at Van Wert County Hospital, arrived home early this morning after working third shift. She told her mother that employees at the hospital were petrified when they spotted a tornado heading in their direction about 4 p.m. Just a few miles from the hospital, the tornado reportedly took a westerly turn and missed the facility completely.
    As daylight broke this morning, Shivley said emergency vehicles of all kinds hit the streets around her home, searching for any people who may have been trapped overnight in their homes.
    "Sirens, we've heard sirens all night since the wind picked up yesterday," she said. "I never thought I would feel so comforted hearing those sirens."
    Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor, Ohio EMA Director Dale Shipley and other state officials plan to tour damaged areas of the city and county today.
    The Grand Lake St. Marys area escaped the storms relatively unscathed. Law enforcement agencies in Mercer and Auglaize counties reported no major problems due to the storms.
    Elsewhere, emergency crews searched for survivors early this morning amid the wreckage of communities smashed by the series of pulverizing storms that barreled through more than a half-dozen states, killing at least 33 people and injuring more than 100.
    The death toll included 16 in Tennessee, 10 in Alabama and five in Ohio. Pennsylvania and Mississippi reported one death each.
    As the storms moved eastward, tornado warnings were posted this morning for sections of Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, but there were no immediate reports of serious damage. Hundreds lost power in the Carolinas.
    Some 45 people were unaccounted-for in the rural Tennessee community of Mossy Grove, officials said. Officials said telephone lines were down and roads were blocked, making it difficult to find people who might be OK.
    A tornado cut a swath five to six miles long just before 9 p.m. Sunday, killing at least seven people in the town about 40 miles west of Knoxville. Phone service was out and emergency crews had to rely on ham radio operators for communication.
    Authorities were kept away from assessing much of the damage because toppled trees and power lines blocked roadways, and they feared the death toll would rise as daybreak revealed the extent of the devastation.
    "It's mass destruction, death,'' said Ken Morgan, an officer in nearby Oliver Springs. "Mossy Grove is destroyed.''
    Carbon Hill, Ala., was in a similar situation as a nighttime swarm of storms belted the area and sent giant hardw"d trees crashing down on small houses and mobile homes.
    "I reckon about a third of the town is gone,'' said Terry Murray, part of a crew surveying the extent of the damage.
    The tornadoes flattened dozens of homes throughout the region and left tens of thousands without power. Wind hit an estimated 140 mph in Tennessee and the storms carried torrential rain and golf-ball-sized hail.
    Unseasonably high temperatures Sunday in the 80s, followed by a cold front, made conditions ripe for tornadoes, which are not unusual this time of year, said Gene Rench, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Memphis.
- Staff writers Shelley Grieshop and Tim Cox contributed to this story.


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