Gary Clark: Red Cross Volunteer Reflects on Memorial Day Tornadoes One Year Later

Gary Clark imageMay 2020


Driving home each day brings fresh memories of the 2019 Memorial Day tornadoes for Red Cross volunteer Gary Clark.

Gary Clark image
Gary Clark at the American Red Cross.

Clark, the situational awareness unit lead for the Central & Southern Ohio Region, lives only a quarter mile from where one of multiple tornadoes touched down the night of May 27 and the early morning hours of May 28, 2019. Tornadoes hit several locations in the Greater Dayton Area, Celina and in Ross County near Chillicothe.

The National Weather Service in Wilmington recorded the largest of them being an EF4, with winds up to 170 miles per hour, which struck Montgomery county.

“I drive past homes still left damaged and unrepaired,” he said. “You still get a reflection of what happened there.”

Clark received a call at 4 a.m. May 28 from the Red Cross to help with the emergency response after completing his shift with the Dayton-area National Weather Service
Skywarn team at 2:30 a.m.

Northridge Dayton tornado 4
Northridge, Ohio, after the tornadoes passed through in May 2019.

 “I was ready for it and already knew it was coming,” the Dayton native said. “You know you’re going to get called. You know you’re going to be out there before other resources arrive.”

The 44-year-old used his previous experience responding to Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and Hurricane Michael in 2018 to keep calm and collect information as part of the disaster assessment team. Clark was one of 674 staff members and volunteers to respond to the Memorial Day tornadoes.

Although he spent most of his time in the Dayton Chapter office, which was headquarters for the disaster response, Clark recalled seeing large apartment complexes destroyed by strong winds and displaced residents trying to process the loss of their homes and belongings.

Dayton tornado staff (1)
Dayton Chapter Office of the Red Cross.

In the hours, days, weeks and months following the tornadoes, the Red Cross opened seven shelters for those whose homes  were made unlivable by the devastation; in total there were 1,781 overnight shelter stays. Through four fixed feeding sites and nine mobile feeding sites over 12,049 meals were served. A total of 1,929 comfort kits
and 3, 571 cleanup and disaster kits were provided to impacted residents. Over 1,200 cases for financial assistance were opened, helping 3,888 residents.


“Some people didn’t know what to do next. They were waiting for a city official to direct them,” he said. “We found people who thought they were prepared —weren’t.”

The Red Cross recommends families develop a tornado response plan that includes finding safe spaces such as basements or small, windowless rooms, and designating a safe space to gather away from the storm. Additional preparedness information can be found here.

Dayton and the surrounding areas are still working to recover from the severe damage caused by the Memorial Day tornadoes. The Red Cross is a member of the Miami Valley Long-Term Disaster Recovery Operations Group that provides tornado survivors with the resources and services they need to recover, rebuild, and achieve resiliency for the future.

None of Clark’s previous volunteer experience prepared him to see and respond to the devastation of his hometown. “The bigger impact I had was when it hit home,” Clark said. “Here locally, it really affected you.” ~Jessica J. Burchard –Red Cross volunteer

If you would like to learn more about volunteering with the American Red Cross, please visit us at http://www.redcross.org/volunteer.

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