Tornado Swept Through Strongsville 47 Years Ago Today
Homes were destroyed, baby killed in Palm Sunday storm
Today is the anniversary of the Palm Sunday tornado disaster in Strongsville, when a twister touched down in Westwood Estates, demolishing dozens of houses and claiming the life of a 6-week-old baby.
It was one of 47 funnel clouds spawned that day by a chain of thunderstorms that ranks as one of the deadliest in Ohio history, killing 57 people in seven counties.
Homes on Atlantic Road and Richards Drive were mangled -- roofs torn off, walls collapsed, furniture scattered. Cars were thrown around like toys. Trees were toppled. Sheds were blown away.
The worst tragedy was on Carlyle Drive, where the tornado ripped the roof off a house and lifted Shirley Sposet and her 5-year-old son into the air before slamming them into the ground.
The Sposets' 6-week-old baby, Lisa Ann, was sleeping in her bassinet at the time. Searchers found her body an hour later, the bassinet wrapped a tree 45 yards away and her blanket dangling from a branch 15 feet off the ground.
An estimated 200 people were left homeless that night, their houses destroyed, their possessions swept away or waterlogged.
The late Mayor Walter Ehrnfelt, who at the time was not yet an elected official, told the Sun Star in a 1998 story that he found canceled checks from Atlantic Road homes in his yard on Howe Road the next morning.
The tornado that hit Strongsville came from Lorain County, where it devastated a town of about 50 called Pittsfield. It hopscotched through Columbia Station and Strongsville, pausing in the Westwood neighborhood and then heading east toward Pearl Road, where it smashed the concrete-and-brick building that served as St. Joseph School, leaving a bout 600 students without classrooms.
The community pulled together to help clean the wreckage. Former resident Ken Wood, at the time a Strongsville Boy Scout, remembers hundreds of volunteers joining his troop in dragging away debris over the next week.
"It was surreal," he said. "It looked like a war zone."
Most residents had no idea they were in a tornado's path. Newspaper stories from 1965 said tornado warnings were not issued in time to warn people in Lorain or Cuyahoga counties because the funnel cloud eluded the weather service's radar equipment.
A tornado warning was issued for Cuyahoga, Lorain and Medina counties about 11:20 p.m. -- just as the twister was entering Strongsville.