What does it feel like to be in the eye of a tornado? For Ronald and Janice Johns, of Millbury, it is something they wish they did not know.
Their home, located on Collins Road, is now a flattened piece of real estate thanks to the June 5 F-4 tornado that ripped through Millbury.
“It has been tough,” Janice said, choking back tears. “There is so much to think about right now.”
According to Janice, she had already developed the habit of grabbing important papers, wallets and money whenever severe weather was approaching. That Saturday evening would be the same.
“We heard the sirens and I grabbed my things to take them downstairs,” Janice explained. “We really did not take it too seriously at first. In fact, I was ready to go to bed.”
While she was taking the valuables to the basement, Ron went outside to see what was going on, Janice said. Minutes later, her husband ran into the home and told her to get downstairs immediately.
“Ron went to walk around and he heard the noise,” Janice said. “He told me to get to the basement. He ran down and I went up to turn the light off. I was on the step to the basement when it hit. If I would have been two seconds later, I would not be here.”
The sound was overwhelming, Janice said, adding that neither she nor Ron heard their house being torn apart.
“The sound was overwhelming and very loud. There was a ton of pressure,” she explained. “I was on the step and all of a sudden, a piece of cement came through the house and hit me on the back of my head. I had my head covered. The cement piece hit Ron hard.”
Within moments, Janice ran downstairs to the basement and helped roll the huge piece of cement off of her husband. It would later be determined to be the inner cement liner from the home’s chimney.
“It was so heavy and I normally could not move that heavy of an object but I was able to roll it off of him,” Janice said. “We got up, grabbed our flashlight and went up the stairs. Our house was gone. It was all gone within seconds. It was just a flat piece of property.”
Luckily, an ambulance was on scene immediately, Janice said. The couple was transported to Bay Park Community Hospital.
“We had a lot of bumps and bruises but nothing broken,” Janice said. “We are very fortunate to be here.”
Meanwhile, the Johns’ niece, Dawn Johns-Blausey, and her husband Gary, were enjoying Genoa’s Homecoming festivities at Ray’s Café. Johns-Blausey said she received a call from her parents, Reed and Kay Johns, of Millbury.
“The sirens went off and my mom called me,” Johns-Blausey said. “My mom said she heard a terrible noise. Then someone said Lake High School had been hit by a tornado. I did not quite believe it. I thought it was an exaggeration.”
Johns-Blausey, a resident of Genoa, said she and her husband raced back to Millbury.
“We had to go down Cherry Street to get to my aunt and uncle’s house. We got to the corner of Bradner and Cherry and there were 40 cars there and people just walking around, dazed. They were just stunned. I got out of the car and ran like crazy to where their house was. The Red Cross was there and they were just amazing. I recognized Kathy McVicker from the Red Cross and I just cried in her arms.”
As she approached the wreckage, Johns-Blausey said she was told by someone on scene that her aunt and uncle had already been transported to the hospital.
“My husband tried to get to SR 795 and he could not get down it,” she explained. “I was hysterical. We had to get to I-280 and go around. We had to get the hell out of Dodge. It looked like Afghanistan. We had to go around to get to the hospital. It was the longest 10 minutes in my life.”
Johns-Blausey said she located her aunt immediately at the hospital.
“She told me the chimney had fallen through the basement and that everything was gone,” Johns-Blausey said. “Their ranch home, their antiques, two barns, their two brand new vehicles and their camper are all gone.”
The next day, Johns-Blausey said she went to help clean up her aunt and uncle’s property.
“I picked up clothes in my aunt’s field all the way down to Bradner Road,” Johns-Blausey said. “We found one of their antique iron wagon wheels all the way down the road.”
The sight of hundreds of volunteers also cleaning up the property and trying to help her relatives out has changed Johns-Blausey.
“I am so touched and forever changed from this,” she said. “There was such an outpouring of help from the surrounding communities. There were people there from Michigan. People came out of the woodwork to help my aunt and uncle.”
Johns-Blausey has since been helping to clean a farmer’s field located on Trowbridge Road.
The Johns are currently staying with their son and daughter-in-law, Randy and Sherri Johns, in Millbury. The couple is still trying to pick up the pieces.
“We are very fortunate to be here,” Janice said. “We are a lot luckier than some people on Main Street. There were over 100 people there trying to help us clean up. We are very thankful to our friends and to the community. We never knew so many people cared for us. It is very hard to talk about this yet. I still burst into tears. I have my good days and bad days. We are hoping to rebuild. That is our plan.”