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The Day After
Harrowing night for trapped family

By Karen Wittwer
Independent Staff Writer

Originally Published Wednesday, June 4, 1980

The family huddled underneath a mattress for more than two hours as they listened to their furniture and possessions fly across the rooms upstairs.

Nancy and Ray Gearhart and their eight year old daughter, Kimberly, found themselves trapped in the basement of their duplex at 914 E. Bismark Tuesday night as tornadoes and thunderstorms raged overhead.

As Ray, news director for KMMJ radio, called in his stories to the wire service, Nancy and Kimberly made their way downstairs about 9:15 p.m. Soon after, when Ray joined his wife and daughter, the three fitted themselves between two mattresses and stayed there as wind and rain pounded their home.

At first, they could hear items falling one by one upstairs but after a few minutes everything went at once, Nancy said. The air pressure was so terrific during the storm that the family had to constantly fight popping eardrums, she said.

Seemingly, the safest place to be, Nancy said they couldn't do much more than just hold onto each other and try to remain calm. And "pray you don't blow away with it," she said.

But after smelling gas at about 2 a.m., Nancy said they didn't know whether to stay in the basement or leave. They later learned the gas was coming from a large leak in the neighborhood.

The Gearharts stayed in their basement until about 7 a.m. Wednesday, the stairway completely blocked with debris and fallen lumber, with no way out.

A neighbor and her two sons, walking through the neighborhood to help other residents, arrived to help the Gearharts climb out of what had been their refuge for the past 10 hours.

Between the tornado and the following rain, Nancy said she doubted if they could salvage much from their possessions. They managed to find heavy shoes and some clothes but nearly everything else is lost.

However, although the tornado took the top of house, the garage and car missed the brunt of the storm.

Now, about all that's left to do is go back and "see what we can come up with," Nancy said.