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Twenty Years
'You never heard such a roar'

Deputy emergency management director recalls her experiences

By Carol Bryant
The Independent

Grand Island/Hall County Deputy Emergency Management Director Therese Muchow has worked during many tornado warnings since starting her job in May 1979, but her experiences on June 3, 1980, remain fresh in her mind.

When Muchow left work at 5 p.m. June 3, 1980, she told Howard Maxon, who had recently started as director of the city's emergency communications center, that she would return to Grand Island from Columbus by 9 p.m. Maxon is now city/county emergency management director.

Muchow ended up coming back to Grand Island as tornadoes were striking the city. She worked straight from 10 p.m. June 3 to 2 p.m. June 5, 1980.

Muchow had worked from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 3 and then left with her husband, daughter-in-law and 3-month-old grandson for Columbus. They were returning to Grand Island on Highway 30 and began hearing reports of storms as they drove through Silver Creek. Muchow's daughter-in-law heard a report on the radio about tornadoes.

As they continued west on Highway 30 and drove through Clarks, Muchow's daughter-in-law suggested stopping at a bar because of the number of cars there, but Muchow wanted to continue. A truck with no trailer passed them, and they followed the truck to Grand Island.

As they approached Shady Bend on the east edge of Grand Island, "the truck driver started swerving," Muchow said. "The reason was because there were so many downed trees."

When they reached the Burlington Railroad underpass on Second Street, "you never heard such a roar," Muchow said. "We heard a noise, something like a train in the area."

They stopped at City Hall, then at Second and Pine. Muchow shielded her grandson with a car seat, carried him into City Hall, set him on a bench and reported to work at 10 p.m. June 3. Muchow's husband, Marvin, planned to check on their immediate family. Other relatives took Muchow's daughter-in-law and grandson to their home in Wood River.

Muchow's 85-year-old mother lived at 505 E. First, was confined to her home and used a walker. Muchow's husband checked on her mother and found her sitting in a chair, clutching a rosary.

"She was fortunate and credited prayer as her means of comfort," Muchow said. Her mother's property was not damaged, but all of the other neighbors on her block had house and tree damage.

Muchow worked nonstop in the 911 center. She later asked her husband to bring items for her, including a change of shoes, stockings and deodorant.

"I got the shoes and socks, but he forgot the deodorant," Muchow said.

"The only place to freshen up was the rest room in the basement of City Hall," Muchow said. "The city had turned the water off, and the only water available was the drainage from the water pipes in the building. I had water for the sink, but for a foot bath, I used the toilet stool."

She was able to leave City Hall for three hours, starting at 2 p.m. June 5.

"I went to the hair dresser, and the first damage I was able to view was the Nebraska Veterans Home area. I had a short rest period and went back to work," Muchow said.

She returned to work at 5 p.m. June 5 and stayed until 7 a.m. June 6.

"If I did not go home at that time, I would not have been able to get out and go home for rest, which was badly needed at that time," Muchow said. "I went to Bismark Road to see the damage. The area was cordoned off, but the officer let me go down South Locust Street to Highway 34 and back."

Because Muchow had spent much of her time in the basement at City Hall, she had no true idea how much damage had occurred.

"By this time, I had been on duty 64 hours before I was able to rest," she said.

Maxon had been the police chief in Shelton for a year before Grand Island Mayor Bob Kriz nominated him in March 1980 to direct the city's emergency communications center.

Before becoming Shelton police chief, Maxon was an operator and supervisor in the Kearney communications center and had spent two years operating the night desk as a Holdrege police officer, according to a March 13, 1980, story in The Independent.

A city/county communications committee recommended Maxon's appointment as civil defense supervisor, a June 3, 1980, story in The Independent said.

Maxon has been on vacation last week and this week and has been unavailable for comment.