Church congregation coping with damage left by Highland County tornado

‘You can’t imagine the destruction the tornado did to this area.’
Published: Mar. 23, 2023 at 10:27 PM EDT|Updated: Mar. 23, 2023 at 10:28 PM EDT
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HILLSBORO, Ohio (WXIX) - Communities around Hillsboro continue to pick up the pieces three weeks after a tornado ripped through the area.

More than 50,000 people lost power in the Tri-State during the March 2nd storms. The number was far higher in Kentucky, where four people died. Duke Energy struggled with high winds, and the outages lasted through the night.

The EF1 tornado, one of three that touched down during the March 2nd storms, traced a 14-mile path through fields and backyards, across roads and streams just west of Hillsboro.

Its wind speed reached 100 mph, according to the National Weather Service. A garage on OH-131 was flattened. Other homes nearby suffered significant damage.

“We saw it coming down the road over here, and then all of a sudden it sounded light a freight train,” said Max Sprague, a resident of Hillsboro.

The Fairview Church of Christ on US-50 lay squarely in the tornado’s path and bore the brunt of its fury. The roof peeled clean off, parts of it draping down the side of the church, the rest strewn across the rubble in the road.

“You can’t imagine the destruction the tornado did to this area,” Sprague said.

[WATCH: Up-close video of confirmed tornado touchdown in Highland County]

Clean-up at the church is ongoing. The parking lot is now free of debris, but the church remains without a roof, notwithstanding the tarp installed overhead as a half-measure.

“It’s just a small little family church,” said Josh Mahan, a deacon at Fairview Church of Christ. “Everybody’s real close-knit. It’s like a little family.”

Church members were devastated at the building’s condition.

“It broke my heart,” Sprague said.

Sprague, who is not a member of the church, is hosting a car show at Star Cinemas in Hillsboro on Saturday, May 27, to benefit the church.

“We didn’t know the guy,” Mahan said of him. “You know, he’s never been here. Not a part of it. And he just reached out and asked if he could do it... It warms the heart, you know?”

Sprague says he didn’t give it a second thought.

“I said, ‘I’ve got to do something,’” he recalled thinking immediately after seeing the damage. “I’m one of those people who believe if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

For now, the problem continues to be the disrepair of the church building where dozens formerly gathered to worship. They resorted to an office in Hillsboro in the days after the tornado.

Eventually, they returned to the church’s basement. Last week was the first time they held a service in the main building, beneath the underbelly of that temporary tarp.

They hope to have a real roof again someday soon.

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