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The Day After
Prayers, luck help survivors

By Mark Getzfred
Independent Staff Writer
Originally Published Wednesday, June 4, 1980

The couple started out for a night of bowling at Meves Bowl. They ended up thanking God for their lives at 2:30 a.m. Wednesday at the National Guard Armory.

Bob Blair, 2925 S. North Road, said the foursome had been bowling at Meves when they were ordered along with other customers to take shelter in the restrooms.

Blair said the bowling alley exploded around them as they sat on the restroom floor.

"We just all prayed to God that it wouldn't hit us," he said.

While the four were safe from flying glass, they had another worry.

"When that thing hit, the ceiling caved in," said Rose Hardee, 510 W. Stolley Park Road. "I lost my shoes and everything."

Her companion, Melia Stanley, 518 E. Capitol Ave., said another man in the restroom caught a steel beam which was falling on her.

Blair said he another man stood outside Meves and watched three small twisters converge into one and head toward southeast Grand Island.

A fourth twister disappeared into the sky, he said.

Meves Bowl customers crawled to safety through broken windows as the tornado devastated the building and the surrounding neighborhood.

They were just four of hundreds left without shelter as at least four tornadoes swept through Grand Island Tuesday night, leaving hundreds of and businesses damage.

For Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Searson, 715 S. Joehnck, and Modesta Lendt, 909 E. Oklahoma, a mystery man in a van was their lifesaver.

The Searson's home blew away while the couple sat in the basement.

"I don't know who they were; they were out helping people in a van," Mrs. Searson said.

"There was plenty of warning," she continued. "That's why we went to the basement; that's probably why we're here."

The three Pleasant View Division residents were taken to shelter at First Presbyterian Church at about 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Lendt said they were scared by leaking gas.

"We were really scared," Lendt said. "We wanted to get out of there."

About 20 southside residents took shelter in the First Presbyterian where church volunteers served coffee and cookies.

People evacuated to Barr Junior High School, 602 W. Stolley Park Road, weren't so lucky. The school sustained a great deal of damage from water and broken glass. Storm refugees found themselves sitting in water until they were evacuated to the Red Cross Emergency Center at Stolley Park Grade School early Wednesday.

About 6 a.m., some 100 homeless people had been sheltered at the school.

Robert Wright, 2436 N. Taylor, said he crawled out from the underneath his bed directly to the outside. Wright found shelter at the 911 Emergency Center in the basement of City Hall.

"I was just lucky enough not to get killed," he said. "I'm shivering right now. I'm safe; I'm lucky, I got out of that house safe."

Wright said he was concerned about his dogs, Tiny and Black, which he left at the house.

"I saw trees fall before my eyes right through the front door," said Kathy Cremen, 2207 N. Huston. While she huddled in her neighbor's living room, Mrs. Cremen worried about her husband, who was attending an Izaak Walton League meeting.

"I was lost in fright worrying about her," said husband Doug. He said damage to his home was minimal, with only some broken glass and lost window screens.

"I don't know how many Hail Marys and Our Fathers I said," she declared.

Cremen's neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Gene Buckles, 2219 N. Huston, crawled into a closet when the tornado passed.

"I was praying that I'd be okay," Buckles said.

The Pauly family, 2312 N. Custer Ave., spent several anxious minutes in the basement while the storm passed.

"We could just hear all the windows breaking and the chairs blowing around," said Lisa, age 11. She had been baby-sitting at her aunt's when the warning was sounded.

Her mother brought her home just before the storm. The family was taken to the National Guard Armory by a neighbor.

The family's house was destroyed while the family took shelter in the basement.

"You can always replace that house but you can't replace those lives," said Bill Pauly.

The Pauleys sat waiting at the armory with about 15 other homeless residents and a girls' softball team from Aurora. The armory had been opened by Steve Paustian, city parks director, when the sirens had sounded about 9 p.m.

Paustian said he was lucky he had a key to let the people in. Other residents found shelter at Central Catholic High School, Northwest High School and several churches throughout the city.

Workers at Kmart on South Locust Street hid behind the cafeteria counter while the storm passed over.

"It broke out all the windows and we thought it hurt the roof," one employee said. When the roof started to leak, the employees were taken to Barr Junior High School.