UT employee recounts harrowing encounter with twister

June 16, 2010 | News, UToday
By Kim Goodin

The Delta home of Kelli and Quinn Chovanec was ripped apart by a tornado that touched down in Fulton County June 5.

The Delta home of Kelli and Quinn Chovanec was ripped apart by a tornado that touched down in Fulton County June 5.

“It’s getting loud and scary here.”

At 10:42 p.m., Kelli Chovanec sent that text to her husband, Quinn, from the chaos of her rural Delta home on Saturday, June 5.

Minutes later, the registered nurse in 6AB at UT Medical Center felt she was literally fighting the force of nature for the lives of herself and her two children.

The evening had begun on a high note. Chovanec, whose husband was away on business, had taken her daughters, Breann, 4, and Kathryn, 2, to an outdoor theater in nearby Liberty Center.

As the weather turned, she remembered an eerie message coming through the speaker system. “Drive safe,” she recalled a voice advising after the film was interrupted. “I don’t want to tell you to rush, but get home quick.”

Chovanec sped home, becoming more frightened by the minute. “The radio said a tornado was heading toward Liberty Center.”

This shows the front of the Chovanec home.

This shows the front of the Chovanec home.

Dashing inside the family’s two-story home on Fulton County Road 7 amid a rage of rain and wind, Chovanec armed her children with flashlights and directed them to the basement.

She remembered her ears popping as they descended to a basement closet. Before she could close the door, however, a gust of wind blew it shut.

“I remember thinking, ‘We’re in trouble.’” Chovanec said.

She described the sound of the tornado’s touchdown as shattering glass among the thunder of a train wreck. She clutched her children and sobbed on her cell phone to Quinn, “I think it hit our house. I think our house is falling down.”

When the family finally climbed up the steps, Chovanec shone her flashlight to both sides of what had been her home. “There were no walls,” she recalled. “I could hear the hissing of my propane tank and I knew I had to get the kids out.”

Kelli and Quinn Chovanec

Kelli and Quinn Chovanec

They emerged to a neighborhood in chaos, with homes leveled and people crying for help as they realized the full impact of an EF2 tornado. The storm spawned numerous twisters throughout northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, killing five people.

The Chovanec family has been tasked with many challenges in the week since the tornadoes: finding temporary residence, preserving valuables from their home, fending off looters, and coping with the shock of nearly losing everything.

“The structure of our house is still standing, but we’ve been told it’s unsound,” Chovanec said. “It looks like a battle zone, with bombs and shrapnel. It’ll probably have to be demolished.”

She marvels at the tornado’s random violence. “In my daughter’s room, the wall is completely blown out, but her bed is still made and the pillows are still on the bedspread. There’s also an angel figurine on the shelf above her bed that was untouched.”

She’s grateful for support from family, friends and those in the UT community. “They’ve really rallied around me,” she said, noting that colleagues have helped her retrieve items from her home, assisted with cleanup, provided clothing and toys, and donated money and gift cards.

“That part of it is overwhelming, but in a good way.”

The family resides in a local hotel until permanent arrangements can be made. Chovanec said she treats it as a lesson for her children that “home is where your family is together and safe.”

With additional assistance in the works from federal and local organizations, she realizes her life can be rebuilt, eventually. For now, she is focused on returning to some type of normalcy by rejoining colleagues in 6AB this week.

There was a ray of good news last week: Chovanec saw an ultrasound image of her unborn child, who is due later this year.

“He was beautiful and kicking like crazy,” she said. “He was letting me know that he was all right and that I needed to start taking care of myself again.”

Fulton County neighbor and UT colleague Gail Brown, systems analyst 1 in Clinical Informatics, said she and her roommate had some property damage but were spared from the destruction.

“Although we sustained a fair amount of damage to a pole barn and lost a lot of trees, we were incredibly fortunate to not have been injured or have our home damaged,” Brown said. “All around us there is massive destruction to many homes and buildings. Some people lost everything.

“It is amazing to see the way the community has come together to assist,” Brown continued. “As we look down our street, there are dozens of cars parked at every home with damage where people are volunteering for cleanup. Volunteers have been walking up and down our street since Sunday [June 6] offering food, water and physical assistance.”

Brown asked for continued prayers for those who suffered loss.

Employees wishing to write checks to support co-workers who were impacted by the tornado may make them out to The University of Toledo Relief Fund and send them to the Pastoral Care Department, Mail Stop 1055.

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