VAN WERT, Ohio (AP) -- Dust-covered boxes of candy are stacked on shelves inside the movie theater lobby. The popcorn machine sits empty below a shredded ceiling that reveals wiring and twisted metal.
Not much has changed inside the Van Wert Cinemas since a year ago when it took a direct hit from a monster tornado. Quick thinking by the theater's manager who moved people to safety saved countless lives.
Disputes and delays with insurers and the government, though, have kept owner Jim Boyd from rebuilding. "It's kind of difficult for us to see it all torn up while everyone around us is rebuilding," said Boyd, who also lost his home in the twister.
Little other physical damage remains from the storm that tore a 100-mile path through northwest Ohio on Nov. 10, 2002. What's left in many places are emotional wounds. "There's a lot of mental scars yet," said Port Clinton Mayor Tom Brown, whose town along Lake Erie had 89 homes destroyed or damaged but suffered no major injuries. "You can't measure what these people had to go through. Some people can't even talk about what they had to go through."
A neighborhood along the lake where most of the damage occurred in Port Clinton shows few signs of the destruction. Homes have been rebuilt and trees have been replanted. "It is just a miracle because we're almost totally rebuilt," Brown said. "That's my pride and joy right now."
Throughout the state, five people died in the storm that spawned tornadoes with winds topping 200 mph. It was one of the most expensive weather disasters in the state's history.
Van Wert, near the Indiana state line, was the hardest hit. "Anytime it thunders, people are very leery around here," said Rick McCoy, director of Van Wert County's emergency management office. Four business were destroyed and five were damaged in the town's industrial park. Near the theater, eight houses were ruined.
A couple of new houses have popped up since, but the theater remains closed. "I foolishly thought we would be rebuilding last spring," Boyd said. "It really has been a major headache." He found out the property was underinsured and then fought numerous delays trying to secure a loan from the Small Business Administration. On top of that, he was living with his wife, Joyce, in a rental home and trying to find a new house. "You can't get a peaceful rest because you know there are hundreds of things you need to do," he said. "I'm not complaining. It's just a fact of life."
The tornado ripped away part of the steel-framed theater's walls and roof, tossing three cars into the front of a theater that had been filled with children watching "The Santa Clause 2" minutes earlier. Theater manager Scott Shaffer and other employees herded about 50 people into a brick hallway and restrooms just as the tornado hit. A half-hour earlier, the theater had been packed, but most people had just left as two movies ended. Only two people had minor injuries. "That was such a relief," Boyd said. "Everything else was easy to deal with. All things considered, we were very fortunate."
Twisted sheet-metal from the roof is still wrapped in tree limbs next to the building. Inside, whipping wind and clanking metal echo throughout the theater. A group of local residents have helped raise money to rebuild the theater, the only one in town. And just more than a week ago, Boyd found out that the Small Business Administration closed on his loan of $947,000 to rebuild the theater. Boyd, 54, now hopes to reopen next May. "If I live to see the end of it, it will be worth it," he said.
730 North Summit Street