By Bruce Checefsky

The National Weather Service (NWS) confirmed that an EF-1 tornado struck Cleveland’s east side on Thursday, August 24th. The Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF Scale, is a system by the NWS to rate a tornado based on estimated wind speeds and related damage. An EF-1 has wind gusts from 86-110 mph with moderate damage; an EF-5, the highest on the scale, has wind gusts over 200 mph with devastating results.

Michael Wiggins from Cleveland Heights was leaning against a fence along E. 78th St. and Euclid Ave., assessing the damage to the New Life At Calvary Church. The winds from the tornado touched down in the neighborhood, tearing a hole in the roof and causing damage to church offices, youth worship, and activity space. Several large trees fell and crushed a porch, with even more damage to the roof line and façade.

The tornado was on the ground for only three minutes but caused over $4 million in damages to the 143-year-old Cleveland historic landmark. The tornado was the first to touch down in the city of Cleveland since 1992, and according to NWS, it was the first tornado ever recorded in downtown Cleveland.  The 150-yard-wide tornado formed near Chester Avenue and E. 71st St. and blew through the neighborhood with an estimated 110-mph winds for less than a mile, lifting away near E. 89th and Euclid Avenue.

Michael Higgins stands near damaged New Life At Calvary Church. Photo: B. Checefsky

Wiggins shook his head in disbelief. “My wife and I, her best friend, my two daughters, and three sons went here. It is a real family church with a lot of history to it,” he said. “I grew spiritually here. It is God’s will. He allows bad things to happen so we can draw closer to Him and depend and serve on Him.”

At the Euclid Avenue and the 79th St. bus station, Lorett was waiting for the Healthline bus to Public Square. She pointed across the street. “I have been going to that church since the year 2000. The storm blew through, with [electricity] off and on. I got no sleep, and even now, my refrigerator has no power. We live at Erie Square, across from Aldi,” she said. “I have no hot water, trying to take a bath. It is terrible. We come from a homeless shelter, on the streets, and we now have to deal with this.”

Further up Euclid Ave., along E. 81 St., a large tree with its roots pulled from the ground lay toppled in the yard between a house and an apartment complex. Ismaila (pronounced “iz-MY-lah”) was standing on the porch of a two-story house, looking over the damage. The property belongs to Golden Tile Work from Cleveland. Ismaila was rehabbing the property, trying to get it ready to rent. “I did not notice until today when I sent my guys out. I thought God was on my side, and everything was okay,” he said, moving around for a better look at the massive tree trunk. “The tree fell on the house, struck the chimney, broke all the windows, and rolled off, taking the siding with it.” Damage was extensive. Power lines were down, spread across the street and yard. He was waiting for the city to clean it up. “The City was not around to see if we were safe,” said Ismaila. “Someone is going to get hurt.”

Lenny Gray and music minister Kerry Holland, New Life At Calvary Church. Photo: B. Checefsky

Back at the New Life At Calvary Church, congregant Lenny Gray and music minister Kerry Holland were in the parking lot while workers packed up and left for the day. They were trying to determine how to have a service the following day and decided to have it outside. Holland is a legend in the Cleveland music community. He’s best known as the keyboard player with the iconic Spirit Plus Show Band and has performed for productions at Karamu House as well. Holland said the wind did more damage than the rain. “We plan to fix it,” he said. “We do serve the neighborhood well. We give away free food a couple of days every month and free clothing three days a month. We are a community church.”

Since 1950, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data shows at least seven tornadoes have swept across parts of Cleveland. NWS says at least 12 tornadoes struck northern Ohio that day, touching down in Mentor, Sandusky, Ottawa, and Trumbull counties. Tornados were also reported in Lake and Medina counties, Warrensville Heights, Bedford Heights, Bainbridge in Geauga County, and Wellington in Lorain County, causing damages to homes and businesses.