Residents pulled together, yet ‘scars’ remain in Western
WESTERN — This Saturday will mark the one-year anniversary of when a 105 mph tornado ripped through the town of Western, destroying buildings and homes and knocking down whole patches of woodland.
One year later, town officials said their citizens are feeling positive about how the town has grown and changed since then.
“Our town residents have been able to make improvements to their homes, and the mood of the residents is very positive,” said Western Town Supervisor Diane Butler on Thursday. “Just being able to worship again in the church has been a godsend.”
The tornado blew the steeple off the Westernville Presbyterian Church. Butler said the church officially reopened in the spring, and that has been a boon for many residents.
At about 7:30 p.m. July 9, 2021, a heavy storm turned into a category EF1 tornado, with winds of more than 100 mph, according to the National Weather Service. The tornado left behind a path of chaos along Route 46 and Main Street, destroying homes, tearing roofs, uprooting trees and smashing steeples.
The Western Volunteer Fire Department snapped into service and began to help where they could, with assistance from multiple other local and state agencies. The immediate clean-up lasted several days.
“We still have some clean-up that needs to be done,” Butler noted. “We recovered from the tornado nicely, but it’s the flooding we’re still having trouble with.”
Butler said she hopes to get further help from the state Department of Transportation and local politicians. Several downed trees remain in the town, and at least one bridge is still out on Hillside Road, she noted.
Western Fire Chief Michael Anania was on the front lines of tornado rescue and recovery, and he said the mood is good around town.
“I think everybody feels good about the community and the town,” Anania stated. “It’s a good feeling that you have that partnership with your neighbors.” As for the landscape, the chief noted, “There are still scars visible.”
Anania said he is still very proud of how his firefighters responded to the crisis, calling their work “textbook” for helping people and cleaning up the damage. The biggest lesson he said they learned was that simple road barriers are not enough to keep gawkers out of the town, even when roads are closed.
To mark the anniversary and help celebrate the townspeople, the Western Fire Department will be hosting a dinner at Woods Valley Ski Area on Saturday, July 16. Anania said invitations were sent out to residents whose homes were impacted, which is about 60 families. Local fire volunteers from other agencies who helped out have also been invited.
Anania said they plan to hand out awards for people who stepped up to help and share stories about what everyone went through. The evening will conclude with the fire department’s first annual banquet since the start of the pandemic.
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