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FOREST — Shortly after Friday’s storms tore through the village of Forest, the idea of having a festival this weekend in the town seemed absurd.
There were at least 14 trees toppled in Gormley Park alone. At least 100 fallen trees throughout the village and there were blocked roadways and downed power lines. More than 20 structures suffered some damage in the storm, said village officials.
The safety of the community was top priority to Mayor Tom Seem, he said, as he declared a state of emergency in the village.
But within hours, said Seem today, things began to turn around in Forest. Help came flooding into the town over the weekend and the annual Tree Town Festival parade will open the festival as scheduled Friday evening.
Seem lifted the state of emergency at 4 p.m. Sunday.
There is still a lot to do in Forest, said the mayor, but all the residents have been accounted for and except for four injuries, everyone is safe.
One of those injured was a local firefighter who whose car was struck by a falling tree in the storm, said Seem. Two young people in the park narrowly escaped serious injury from a falling tree when one of the Gormley Park cannons blocked them from the crashing limbs. Each of the young people suffered broken legs and cuts, but are home recovering, said Seem. He had no details about the fourth injury.
Brenda Wren’s mobile home on East Lima Street was crushed by a falling tree. She didn’t live in the trailer, said Wren this morning, but had planned to open a business at the location in the near future. Now, she said, it will need to be demolished and removed. The tree was removed from the property Sunday evening, she said.
As word spread of the devastation in Forest, said Seem, volunteers came to the village to help in any way they could. The mayor worked closely with Fire Chief Doug Hankins and EMT Captain Dean Hankins to organize the efforts. A chart at the firehouse listed the streets blocked by downed trees and limbs. As the streets were cleared, the names were checked off, said the mayor.
“We had a pretty good system going on,” said Seem. “We had good organization and we focused on what was critical … There were little kids helping with what they could and it went on to people well into their 80s who helped.”
A local congregation arrived Sunday for services only to find the church without electricity, said Seem. They decided while they were together, they should pitch in and help the town recover.
“But I think about mid-Saturday was when I saw the back of this crisis getting broke,” said Seem.
The Ohio Department of Transportation sent in a crew to help. AEP had restored 85 percent of the electricity by this morning and contractors cut and removed trees from the roadways and the park. This morning a crew from the county engineer’s office was arriving to assist in the removal of the branches and trees pushed to the side of the Forest streets.
Seem estimated there about 40 volunteers came to the village to lend a hand with the recovery. The church workers were joined by members of a motorcycle gang in their volunteer efforts in Forest.
“We have worked hard this weekend, but we have our second wind,” said Seem. “Just think of what this would have been like if the storm had hit us a week later. As fast as it moved in and with the town full of people … It has been heartwarming to see everyone in town working together. We were soaking wet working in the heat, but there was no dampening of spirits.
“As tired as people are,” he said, “we accomplished a major goal here. A really bad thing turned out to have some good.”
By DAN ROBINSON
Times staff writer