NILES, Ohio (WKBN) — It was on this day 30 years ago that several tornadoes tore paths of destruction through many of our hometowns– the worst being a tornado that touched down in Ravenna, then heavily damaged parts of Newton falls, Niles, Hubbard, and Wheatland.
Few people captured video of the monster storm. However, WKBN hears from a man who did just that. Ron Alfredo takes us back to the very same place he stood, 30 years ago, as he captured the devastation.
30 years ago, many living in the Valley were left picking up the pieces. People who witnessed nature’s destructive power will never forget what they saw.
More stories: Tornado ’85
On May 31, 1985, a total of 43 tornadoes tore through parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario. The 1985 tornado outbreak remains the 11th deadliest tornado day in US history since 1950.
Of the tornadoes to develop that day, the worst ripped right through the heart of the valley viewing area, touching down in Ravenna, and traveling 47 miles east, through Trumbull County before dissipating in Mercer County. The tornado injured 310, and killed 18 people.
On that day Ron and Dale Alfredo, who at the time were living in Texas, were visiting family in Hermitage. They came to introduce their their then 3-month old son, Ryan to the family. Ron was ready to capture all the happy moments on his brand new VHS Camcorder.
“It was something I had always wanted to see…was a tornado, and I just happened to be in the right spot at the right time,” said Ron Alfredo.
Alfredo was prepping to shoot some video of the scenery, because he and wife Dale were feeling a little homesick. That’s when the hail started.
“I went under the porch and called my wife out and I kept filming while she was holding some of the hail stones,” said Alfredo.
Alfredo kept filming, capturing images of hail they estimate was about pingpong or golf ball sized
“They’re all over the place,” said Alfredo as the camera zooms in on the hail left behind during the storm that night.
“And I happened to uh, turn around, and I started taking some videos over there, and I saw some debris,” said Alfredo.
Initially, Alfredo didn’t realize he was staring at a catastrophic tornado]
“But as it got closer, I could pretty much tell the winds started picking up and all the trees started to sway,” said Alfredo.
Alfredo kept the camera rolling, telling family to get to safety.
As large pieces of debris fall, Alfredo runs inside, but keeps filming through a window.
“After I saw it had passed, I ran out again and I was standing right about and kept filming it as it had made its way toward Mercer,” said Alfredo.
After the tornado passes, he keeps rolling as everyone inspects the damage.
“There was a lot of 20 foot by 4 foot sections of steel,” said Alfredo.
Alfredo said it never occurred to him how dangerous it was to stare down the tornado as long as he did, or to stand by a window and keep filming.
While recording, his wife, Dale was in the basement
“I got really scared. i knoI he’s a weather freak and I know he enjoys looking at weather and everything but I just had no clue he was up there still filming it,” said Dale Alfredo.
Dale recalls the glass windows rattling, fearing they may break, and worrying about Alfredo.
When it was safe to leave the basement Alfredo tells her he was rolling on it.
“He goes, I got it on film…and that’s about the time I thought, I’m gonna kill him,” said Dale Alfredo.
Jokes aside, the video has done more than capture a terrifying moment in Valley history.
Fast forward 30 years to an assembly at Hubbard middle school, where Dale Alfredo works as a teachers aide.
“It was the longest two minutes I can ever remember,” said Dale Alfredo.
She tells their story, and is about to show the video.
“And we’re listening to the sound of a train and the windows are shaking like this and I’m thinking, oh my gosh, this is not a good a idea to be here with those windows,” said Dale Alfredo.
For 10 years now, Dale has been showing her husband’s video to students, showing what happened, giving safety tips, and hoping to spark conversation.
“And maybe tonight at the dinner table, they will sit down and actually have a meal where they are going to discuss, what should we do? Just in case,” said Alfredo.
Dale plans to continue using their story to inspire conversation about tornado safety, just in case.