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Indiana And Ohio Are The Latest States Hit With Tornadoes

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Let's get the best picture we can of the tornadoes that struck Indiana and Ohio overnight. In Ohio alone, we're told there are tens of thousands of power outages affecting millions of people, and plows have had to be used to clear the debris off of highways. Jeffrey Payne is the fire chief in Dayton, Ohio, which is at the center of all of this. Chief Payne, welcome to the program.

JEFFREY PAYNE: Hey, thank you very much. Happy to be here.

INSKEEP: What happened in your area overnight?

PAYNE: Well, we had a large tornado move through the city and, actually, the entire Dayton metropolitan area. And we suffered significant damage. Many homes, apartment complexes, flattened. But fortunately, we've had no fatalities. And we've had a minimal number of injuries related to the tornado. Houses were flattened, apartment buildings, just - they're going to be rendered unusable. They're going to have to be demolished.

There's just devastation - 10, 20, 30, houses, you know, in a community, you know. And then you got an entire apartment complex, you know, sports centers ripped up. It's a lot of devastation right now. But, again, just incredible enough - at least at 6:30 this morning, we have no fatalities.

INSKEEP: Chief Payne, I want to remind people, you - you're in the Midwest. So you know from tornadoes. Is this something worse than what you would normally expect?

PAYNE: Absolutely. I've been with the Dayton Fire Department for almost 31 years, and this is the first major tornado that come through Dayton. We've had some bad tornadoes in neighboring communities, such as Xenia. However, this is the first one to hit the Dayton metropolitan region.

INSKEEP: It is pretty rare, it seems to me, that tornadoes do severe damage in heavily populated, densely populated areas. But from what you're saying, it sounds like this was a quite densely populated area.

PAYNE: Yeah, it was. And surprisingly enough, we're coming out of this pretty well in terms of how many people are injured. For instance, in the city of Dayton we've had - we've only had three injuries related to this tornado. It's just amazing, Steve. And I attribute that to the early notification of the weather coming in and people heeding the warnings and getting in a safe place.

INSKEEP: So what is your focus as this day begins?

PAYNE: Our focus is to continue our search and rescue. We're going to be continuing our search in the city of Dayton and the neighboring communities. We have Ohio Task Force 1, which is a FEMA urban search and rescue team that is here. It's going to be assisting with the search and rescue, as well as three other state teams. And we are confident we're going to have a comprehensive search of any occupants or confirming that everyone in those occupancies are OK.

INSKEEP: Chief Payne, do you have a difficult moment sometimes, or people you work with have a difficult moment sometimes because you get a tornado warning. You know you're going to be working. You've got to be focused on your professional duties. But you, of course, also have a family that - family and friends who are right there, potentially in the path.

PAYNE: That's a very good point. And that really hit home last night because we were all with our families, and we had to leave our homes and come into the city while our families had to stay back. And, of course, there's concerns there. And so it's tough. But such is the life of an emergency responder, whether you're police or firefighter. And you - you're there for the safety of the public. And you have a job to do, and that's what we did.

INSKEEP: Well, Chief Payne, I'm glad the news is as good as it is, anyway, and I wish you luck.

PAYNE: Well, thank you very much.

INSKEEP: Jeffrey Payne is the fire chief in Dayton, Ohio. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.