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Ten Years
'It looked like we had been bombed'


Victims of tornadoes will never forget what happened June 3, 1980

By Gene Schinzel
Independent Correspondent

June 3, 1980, is a day that many Grand Island residents would like to forget. But the destruction left behind by a series of tornadoes that night is etched physically in their memories.

The tornadoes destroyed property throughout the city. In the Capital Heights area, Daryll Thavenet and his family went to the basement just before a tornado destroyed their house at 4264 New York Ave. at about 9:30 p.m.

The house was leveled and Thavenet said he thought about buying a different house.

But that wasn't to be.

''The kids didn't want to move,'' he said.

So the Thavenets with their four children, who were between the ages of 9 and 13, lived in a government trailer in their back yard while their house was being rebuilt. The family moved into their rebuit home the day before Christmas.

Thavenet, who still lives in the same location, said he wasn't all that surprised by the low number of casualties caused by the tornado.

''I think people in these parts of the country are more aware of tornadoes,'' he said. ''I respect them more now.''

'Scared to death'

In the east part of town, Leah McKercher of 516 N. Wheeler was working at the Monfort plant when a tornado struck. She remembers that night well.

''I was scared to death,'' she said. ''It was dark and we were getting wet because the roof blew off.I was afraid the walls would cave in on us.''

McKercher, who retired from Monfort three years ago, said she never worried about tornadoes before the destructive twisters, but now she is bothered every time the sirens sound in town.

Donna Titman was in the basement of her home at 703 Sun Valley Drive when a tornado leveled the structure.

''I was in shock,'' she said. ''Everything you worked for all your life and it is gone so fast.''

The Titmans decided to rebuild their house. They spent the next five months at the Kingswood Estates trailer court while their house was being built.

Titman said she heads for the basement now when the sirens sound. The first couple of years after the tornado she was scared whenever the wind came up.

One positive remembrance Titman had of that time was of the people who helped after the tornado struck.

Helpful people

''There were so many wonderful people who came from all over,'' she said. ''The whole town was together.''

Calvin and Ilene Ball had lived at 230 W. Stolley Park Road for 25 years before the night of June 3, 1980. The Balls, with their 2 yearold grandson, Jason Ball, had been across the street at the home of Loren and Melva Higgs when the sirens sounded.

They had just returned home when the tornado struck.

''I was just worried about the baby,'' Ilene recalled.

The three laid in the middle of the house as it was torn apart about them. Miraculously, the Balls escaped serious injury.

It wasn't until the next morning that they realized the extent of the damage.

''Things you work for and your savings are gone in seconds,'' Calvin said. ''People tell me you'll get over it, but you will never forget.''

The Balls lived at the Bellwood Apartments for a month before moving to their present home at 821 N. Washington on July 3. Calvin retired in 1980. Ilene also remembers the flood of 1967, but said it didn't compare to the tornadoes of 1980.

''You could see the water coming during the flood, but at least you had a house after it was through,'' she said.

Gone in seconds

Melva Higgs remembered the tornado hitting her house then being gone in a matter of seconds.

''I asked Loren, 'is it gone?' and he said 'I'm sure it is,''' she said, remembering her first thoughts after the tornado ripped through their house at 229 W. Stolley Park Road.

''It looked like we had been bombed. The trees were gone; the house was gone,'' she recalled.

Melva said Loren went across the street to see if the Balls were all right.

''On the way back, he got lost,'' she said. ''He didn't even recognize our house.''

Melva said she was thankful for the work the police did and for friends who they stayed with before finding another home. Two weeks after the tornado, the Higgses moved into their present residence at 2504 Stagecoach. Loren now lives at the Nebraska Veterans Home.

Even though the Higgses found a house, Melva said the effect of losing everything is hard to get over.

''I tried hard to get over it but I still haven't gotten over it,'' she said. ''I'm more leery of any storm warning now.''

Like a train

On the south edge of town, Bernard and Emma Wozny at 2619 S. Cochin had their home hit by a pair of tornados at about 10:30 that night. They were protected in a crawl space below their house.

''It sounded like a train was over our house,'' Bernard said. ''You could hear the nails being pulled out of the lumber.''

The couple had lived there only four years before the tornadoes struck and knew they wanted to rebuild at the same location. Today, the retired couple said they are still touchy with storm warnings.

Dale and Cindy Wieseman, who now live at 3106 W. North Front, were newlyweds when the tornadoes struck. The Wiesemans had been married only 10 days and had just returned from their honeymoon two days before when their duplex on Chanticleer Street was destroyed.

The newlyweds then lived in Cindy's parents' home for four months. She still remembers the trip across town to her parents' home after the tornado.

''I had lived in Grand Island all my life and I got lost a couple of times on the way home,'' she said.

Lost everything

The Wiesemans lost everything in the tornado, including an uninsured 1971 Corvette.

''The next day we were walking in the street and someone asked us if we knew who lived here,'' she said, talking about their duplex. ''We said we didn't know who lived there and then we realized that we had lived there.''

Cindy admits she was ''petrified'' after the tornado and for years after it.

''The emotional recovery was more difficult than the financial recovery,'' Dale said.''Worldly possesions are here today and gone tomorrow, but you could see the fear in Cindy's eyes when there were storm warnings and that was tougher to get over.''

When the tornado ripped off the roof of Dick and Bernice Erdbruger's home at 529 W. Stolley Park Road that night, Bernice vowed they would rebuild the house they had lived in since 1949. Today, the Erdbrugers still live there.

As a matter of fact, the Erdbrugers spent the night of June 3, 1980, in their house despite the missing roof.

The couple had to replace nearly everything inside the house because of the rain that fell after the tornado.