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Twenty Years
'It was total darkness'

Police officer was injured helping out after '80 twisters

By Mike Bockoven
The Independent

When the storms were brewing in 1980, officer Rick Ressel of the Grand Island Police Department was watching.

"I was up in the area of Webb Road and Capital Avenue spotting for tornadoes when they started," he said. "I saw them starting and was called back to the station."

Ressel is still a member of the Police Department 20 years later and serves as a school resource officer at Walnut Middle School. He said he spent the night of June 3, 1980, answering call after call. The night ended with a trip to the hospital.

"I pulled the muscles in my lower back helping some people out of a basement," he said. "It was just extreme pain."

Ressel had been dispatched during the height of the storm to the call where several people were stuck in the basement. He remembered the unusual darkness around him while driving to the scene.

"It was total darkness. That's the thing I remember the most," he said. "When I was driving, I could hardly find my way around because of the damage."

After he arrived on the scene, he saw some panicky people, he said.

"I remember one guy just swearing up a storm because he couldn't find his stereo, and he had to evacuate his house," Ressel said.

After helping the people out of the basement, the pain in his back was so intense he had trouble driving himself to the hospital, he said.

"I couldn't use the brake unless I put my leg on the brake and pushed with my arms," he said. "I don't know how I ended up at the hospital, but I did somehow."

But Ressel said his experience, while painful, didn't bring him as close to the raw power of the tornadoes as some officers he talked to afterward.

"I remember hearing screaming over the radio that houses were blowing away," he said. "I know of two guys who were trapped between two twisters. It picked up houses on either side of them but left them alone."

Now, 20 years later, the night of the tornadoes has changed the way Ressel feels and acts toward the storms.

"I really didn't enjoy the spotting," he said. "Whenever there used to be tornado warnings, I wasn't very concerned. Now I don't want to take any chances."