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Trotwood Neighbors Who Survived The Memorial Day Tornadoes Reflect On Loss, Happiness

Longtime Trotwood residents Michelle Potter (L) and Terri Davis recently recorded at WYSO their recollections of surviving the 2019 tornado disaster.
April Laissle
Longtime Trotwood residents Michelle Potter (L) and Terri Davis recently recorded at WYSO their recollections of surviving the 2019 tornado disaster.

The tornado that hit Trotwood last year left behind massive destruction, leveling businesses across the area and displacing hundreds of people from their apartments and homes. Among the residents forced to relocate temporarily were Michelle Potter and Terri Davis. The friends have called Trotwood home for decades and Davis says that when the sirens finally stopped on the night of the tornado, she barely recognized her neighborhood.

This month on WYSO, we're remembering the 2019 Memorial Day tornado disaster and its aftermath. And, we’re hearing from some Daytonians whose lives were forever changed by the storm.

Listen below to the conversation WYSO recorded between Potter and Davis, who speaks first.

What follows is a transcript of the conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Terri Davis: It looked like a war zone. We stayed in a hotel for a month after the storm, which was something that was kind of hard to do because it wasn't home, because I'm like Dorothy, I'm kicking my heels saying, there's no place like home. I was just trying to take it all in, just trying to imagine what we had gone through and surviving it and just trying to assess what we were going to do next. I don't know, it's just -- like, right now it's still hard.

Michelle Potter: I remember that night like it was yesterday, unfortunately. We had been hearing about storms out west and it was interrupting programing and I kept thinking, we hear this all the time, just get back to the programming. And the screen is lit up with yellows and reds. And I tell my daughter, go get a blanket and a pillow and just put it in the bathtub. They're talking about they see debris in the air. I'd never heard those words before. I'm like, get in the bathroom, this looks like we're going to get hit. And I tell my daughter, don't be afraid and keep your head covered. And no sooner than I said that, the roar of a jet engine was on top of us. We are screaming and I thought, we are going to die. The pressure let off. And I thought, oh, my God, it stopped. It stopped. And no sooner than that, the phone rings. It's you and you're screaming, Terri, you're screaming, and I'm thinking, oh my God, please tell me nobody is dead. That's the first thing you're thinking and I go, Terri, meet us outside. Just get out of the house.

Terri Davis: You see it on TV but you just don't know how it affects you until you've been through it yourself.

Michelle Potter: My friend goes, I have plenty of room and my neighbors, her and her kids were like, can we come with you? So we all left together. But, as we drove slowly -- you couldn't move very fast because there was stuff everywhere. I whip my phone out and I'm recording. I had to drop the camera. I couldn't keep it rolling because I could see people hurting so bad. Like, what just happened? Terri Davis: Right. Michelle Potter: You know, and then there were people that were injured. It looked like a bomb had went off.

Terri Davis: It did.

Michelle Potter: I could see [...] Oh, my God, the pain in their faces. I looked around and my heart just broke because my neighbors, our other neighbor across the street, she was on her knees in the middle of the street just crying. Her house was demolished. I mean, every window was gone. The garage was ripped off. And I think that's what makes it so difficult about this loss. Their loss is your loss. Not only do you have your loss, but you have the loss of your friends. Because even now I look at all my neighbors gone, they're still not back.

Terri Davis: And some of the houses are just gone. On my street they're just gone.

Michelle Potter: It's just so many lessons learned, so many about human kindness. This young girl comes up and says, can I give you some water? She backs up in my driveway and she pops her trunk. She's got two little kids in her backseat and her car looked much less than perfect. And I begin to just sob. And she goes, please don't cry, it's going to be OK. And she goes, you can take anything out of my trunk that you want. And I go, the water's great. Here's somebody with so much less than me using what little they have to help me. And I'm still better off than she was. But she had no problem giving me what little she had. I think life has become way more precious. People say, are you happy? And they equate happiness with things.

Terri Davis: With things.

Michelle Potter: It has no value, it has no meaning. And the things that are meaningful, like relationships and just simple free things: a park, a tree, a flower.

Terri Davis: Right. Peace of mind. Just to look at the birds makes me happy.


Community Voices producer Tony Holloway assisted with the production of this story.

Copyright 2021 WYSO. To see more, visit WYSO.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding Americainitiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.
April Laissle is a graduate of Ohio University and comes to WYSO from WOUB Public Media in Athens, Ohio where she worked as a weekend host and reporter. There, she reported on everything from food insecurity to 4-H chicken competitions. April interned at KQED Public Radio in San Francisco, where she focused on health reporting. She also worked on The Broad Experience, a New-York based podcast about women and workplace issues. In her spare time, April loves traveling, trying new recipes and binge-listening to podcasts. April is a Florida native and has been adjusting to Ohio weather since 2011.