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Niles police officer, councilman remember deadly tornado of ’85

Weather Specials

NILES, Ohio (WKBN) – There are many people around who know what it’s like to live through the worst of all possible storms. It’ll be 34 years next month that the area’s largest and deadliest tornado cut a path from Newton Falls to Hermitage. We talked to two people who lived through it.

Most everyone who lived in Niles when the tornado hit on May 31, 1985 has a story to tell.

Niles Policeman Jim Villecco was 15 years old, playing baseball at Wilder Field, when the EF 5 tornado hit. He was on second base. The batter at the plate dropped his bat and ran.

“I looked up and saw it. It felt like it was right on top of us. It was maybe a quarter-, half-mile away and you could see it moving across the sky,” Villecco said.

“You could see debris in it,” said Niles City Councilman Barry Profato. “I knew it was a tornado.”

He remembers people wondering about their families.

“I was OK because my wife and my daughter, we were all together. But there were people that, God forbid, they were concerned for their kids,” Profato said.

A Convenient Mart on Route 46 was destroyed, as were houses in the Shadow Ridge Development. The Niles Park Plaza on Route 422 was also leveled.

Nine people died that day in Niles.

Villecco remembers the hardest part of the day was getting home.

“We tried to go down North Road and there was a house sitting on the roadway and no one could come or go, so we had to park and walk to get back home,” he said.

What happened that day affected Villecco for years.

“I used to have nightmares for a long time after that because after you saw what it actually did, it was real scary,” he said.

There are no signs of the tornado in Niles anymore. There was a plaque at the bottom of a flag pole at the plaza, but now even the plaque and the flag pole are gone.

“I think it makes us all aware because this is not Kansas, this isn’t the Wizard of Oz,” Profato said. “This is reality.”

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