Friday, April 3, 2009

Thirty-fifth Anniversary of the April 3 1974 Tornadoes

This is a re-print of the April 3 entry from last year:

On April 3, 1974 I was just a few days short of my 8th birthday, a second grader at Hardinsburg Elementary School, in Breckinridge County, Kentucky. I have only one really clear memory of that day, and that was when our school bus stopped about a quarter of a mile from our house, in front of what had been the house of a great-aunt.

This was not a scheduled bus stop, so when our driver slowed to a stop it brought my attention out of the book I was reading. I looked out the right side of the bus and was greatly surprised to see my mother standing there. I called to my sister, Barbara, six years my senior, "What's Mom doing there?" She looked at me like I was an idiot, and that is when I realized that Dad was there too, holding a chain saw, along with other men, neighbors, cousins and uncles, also with chain saws, and they were engaged in cutting up the huge oak that had once stood at the end of my great-aunt's drive. The tree had been pulled up out of the ground by the roots, and as my horrified gaze drifted past that sight I realized that the old house that had stood a bit back from the road was gone!

Our driver, after talking to some of the adults outside, continued on the route; ours was actually the next stop. I was thoroughly upset. My sister was still irritated with me -- "Didn't you know we had a tornado come through today? What did you think that tornado drill was all about?"

Well, I swear I have no recollection of any tornado drill. I don't think I even had any memory of it at the time she said that. Either the fact that a tornado had come through that close to home and had destroyed a house that was familiar to me had wiped all other recollections of the day out of my mind, or the drill had been conducted as a regular drill and had been so innocuous that it had meant nothing to me, I don't know. I'm sure the older kids, like my sister, had either been told by their teachers that it hadn't been a drill, but the real thing, or they'd figured it out, but I'm sure we younger ones were just led to believe that it was only a drill.

I found out later that at our house, my father, who had been outside working in his shed when the weather took a horrible turn, had watched from about a half-acre to the back of the house as the tornado had headed straight for our home and then had seemed to just "jump" over it. He said it literally picked itself up right before it got to our house, stepped over the house, and then lowered itself back down. This would have been right after it had taken out my great-aunt's house.

Inside the house, my mother, two of my sisters, a four-year-old niece and a family friend, had all crawled under my parent's iron bed as soon as they saw the tornado approaching. We didn't have a basement, and that was deemed the safest place to be on such short notice. A lot of praying was going on under that bed, I can tell you!

That tornado, an F5 by the time it hit Brandenburg, to our East, was one of at least 26 deadly tornadoes that hit Kentucky that day. The one that jumped over our house was considered the most severe and one of only 7 F5 tornadoes recorded. In Breckinridge and Meade Counties I believe 31 people died. The most damage in our county was done to the town of Irvington, to our East. The city of Brandenburg, in Meade County, was almost completely wiped out, and many of the deaths were of children playing outside. The city of Louisville, Kentucky, in Jefferson County, was hit by a different tornado and also saw a lot of damage and deaths. The April 3, 1974 tornado outbreak is considered one of the worst, if not the worst, in U.S. history.

The following is a quote from this site:

The forecast for Wednesday April 3, 1974 was for showers on the East coast and for thunderstorms across the Midwest. In the heavens, a storm of an overwhelming magnitude was forming. Children went to school, people went to work and lives went on as normal until the second worst storm of the 1900's struck. Tornadoes broke across the heartland with such an intensity and frequency never seen before in the United States. Homes and schools destroyed. Loved ones lost. This site looks at the events of that day .This site is dedicated to the 315 people who lost their lives in this storm and to the over 5,000 people who were injured.
There are some really awesome photos on that site.

The following information is from this site:
April 3, 1974
Counties: Breckinridge and Meade, Kentucky, Harrison, Indiana Meade, Harrison IN
F-Scale: F5
Deaths: 31
Injuries: 270
Path width: 500 ft.
Path length: 32 miles
Time: 2:20pm
Grazulis narrative: Touching down five miles southwest of Hardinsburg, Breckinridge County, the tornado passed along the northern edge of that town, with F3 damage to homes. Thirteen people were injured and 35 homes were destroyed as the funnel moved to the northeast across Breckinridge County and into Meade County. The tornado gradually enlarged and intensified as it approached Brandenburg. The funnel devastated that town and crossed the Ohio River into Harrison County, Indiana. At Brandenburg 128 homes were completely destroyed, many of them leveled and swept away. Thirty businesses were destroyed and damage totaled over ten million dollars. There were 28 deaths in the Brandenburg area. The F4 damage occurred from north of Irvington, into Indiana.
Noted discrepancies: SPC and NCDC give a time of 2:20pm, Grazulis gives 3:25pm, Storm Data 3:30pm. SPC and NCDC give a path length of 32 miles, Grazulis gives 34. SPC and NCDC give a path width of 430 yards, Grazulis give 800 yards.

Click here for emails of personal accounts of the April 3 tornado.

For many years walks in the woods or camping trips would invariably include the sight of tin roofing high up in trees and the comment, "Must have been from the April 3 tornado."


Beth said...

I remember this entry. Let's hope that the upcoming tornado season is a mild one and no lives are lost.

Lynne said...

My town suffered a F4 tornado, killing five people. It destroyed 75% of the local businesses. I hope your town will have a peaceful season, and am also praying for ours!

Joann said...

Just spent at LEAST an hour in that first site reading all about it, seeing pics of the damage, reading those sad obits, checking out maps.... wow. I think I'll take an earthquake any day, by the time you realize what the heck is happening, it's over!! LOL!!

Paula said...

Praying for a calm season this year.

Debbie said...

I didn't remember the date but I do remember when this tornado outbreak happened. The EF3 that touched down in Corydon, KY last weekend headed our way. I did see 2 funnel clouds but thankfully they lifted back up before touching down. We've had several close calls and it's scary.


Joyce said...

Tornados are such scary things. We had one hit the Nashville area just two days ago. No one was hurt, thank goodness.
Hugs, Joyce

Lisa said...

I'm really glad you are a surviver!! Praying this season of tornados is with no damages and no deaths.

Gerry said...

What a string of terrible tornadoes. I can imagine the fear of little children playing outside and not able to get to safety. I was petrified of tornadoes but the country where we lived was so broken up a tornado could not seem to build. But looks and sounds like there is no worse devastation than one of these big ones setting down. Sounds like a real miracle when it went back up and skipped your house. Gerry

Slapinions said...

This event took place on the day one of my best friends was born. I've always thought that was both eerie and cool; at least it makes his DOB easy to remember.

ADB said...

I remember you posting this entry last year, Lori. I hope this year will not nearly be as bad; but you can never tell.

Nelishia said...

I also remember this entry and remember being just a bit older than you and living to the East of London, KY when it came through. My neighbor had an Aunt that was killed ad it was very sad.
Now the date has a much more pleasant memory for me. My grandson Dakota who turned five this year. Even though they live in another state, it is still a very special date for me because he's here.