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In Xenia, Warning Bells Silenced

A tornado that killed 33 people in 1974 in this southwest Ohio community prompted officials to install warning sirens that were supposed to alert residents that trouble was on the way.

But when a twister hit the city this week, the most prominent sirens came from ambulances.

Only one of the city's five tornado warning sirens sounded. The others were silenced by power outages caused by the storm, said Charlie Leonard, assistant city manager.

He said the sirens don't have backup batteries, although there's money in next year's budget for an updated system that would include them.

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"I'm sure we'll be looking at that," Leonard said Thursday.

The tornado that slammed Xenia, Ohio was on them in a heartbeat — so fast, the National Weather Service never got a chance to put out a warning, CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

The tornado Wednesday night flattened buildings, uprooted trees and upended vehicles in this city of 25,000 people, about 20 miles southeast of Dayton. One man died when a tree fell on his car, and more than 100 people were injured. Most of the injuries were minor, however 14 people were admitted to hospitals.

Beverly Moore was inside her house watching a movie when she heard trouble.

"You could hear glass shattering all around us. Things breaking, things hitting. It was just terrible," Moore said.

The National Weather Service said the tornado packed winds ranging from 207 mph to 260 mph. The 1974 Xenia tornado, the highest classification of storm, contained winds up to 318 mph.

"I can't believe we had two tornadoes in this town," said resident Rex Van Pelt, whose house was flattened. "I am starting to think Mother Nature is out to teach a lesson to the people of Xenia."

City officials said the storm destroyed 50 homes, and damaged more than 100 other homes and businesses. Schools were closed Friday for a second straight day.

"I was in Vietnam for 16 months, and six or seven days of bombing never resulted in what happened here in five minutes," said resident Lewis Schingle.

"Our hearts go out ... to the people of Xenia and the surrounding areas, particularly those people whose homes or whose businesses were devastated," said Gov. Bob Taft, who came to assess the damage after declaring a state of emergency in the city.

State officials plan to request damage assessments from the Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the governor said.

The assessments are necessary before the state can request a presidential disaster declaration, which would make low-interest loans, grants and other federal help available.

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