Emergency official reflects on Belleville tornado

PARKERSBURG – Following the three-year anniversary of a tornado that hit communities along the Ohio River, area emergency response officials cite the event as a learning experience.

“I can’t believe it has been three years already,” said Wood County Emergency Management Director Ed Hupp. “That was a long weekend, but the emergency responders were ready.”

Around 7 p.m. on Sept. 16, 2010, a storm with rain, thunder and lightning hit the area and brought a funnel cloud that many residents described as the sound of a freight train through the small hamlets of Reedsville, Ohio, and Belleville, in southern Wood County, where it claimed the life of Belleville resident Larry J. “Joe” Freeman.

“Area emergency teams learned a lot about the way they work together and that their training works,” Hupp said.

Throughout Wood County, emergency agencies not only work together when a call comes in, but also train together throughout the year.

“Because Wood County is exceptionally lucky that all EMS responders train together, we were able to decide what did and did not work quickly,” Hupp said of the aftermath of the 2010 tornado. “We were also able to figure out during the tornado what we needed to change in our training and how we work together.”

Not only did the crews have to deal with downed trees and power lines, but also the obstacle of how to get to those in need.

“One of the biggest issues we had was the road system,” Hupp said. “Because that area is rural and there is only one road in and out of most places, we had trouble getting in with trees down and other debris blocking emergency personnel.”

The powerful winds from the storm not only knocked down trees and power lines while blocking roads, but also blew holes in the roofs of buildings and picked up and threw vehicles from where they had been parked.

“That tornado left a big mess for emergency responders to work through, but we learned a great deal,” Hupp said. “The Belleville storm tested what the agencies were doing.

“We learned the system we had set up and trained on worked and everybody came together really well to get things done,” he said.

Along with knowing the Wood County Emergency responders had trained well together and had a workable system, Hupp said the tornado was a good warm-up, of sorts, for the derecho, which struck the Mid-Ohio Valley on June 29, 2012.

“Just a little over a year ago we had the derecho, which was similar to the tornado in that responders had to work together, using the same training techniques as we did in Belleville,” Hupp said. “We can never be fully prepared for a disaster, but our emergency responders have learned they are ready when it happens.”