Tuesday, April 22, 2008

1968 Charles City Tornado


Please share your thoughts, feelings and stories on the 1968 Charles City Tornado.

24 comments:

Ron said...

I was about 8 when that day occurred. We had recently moved to a farm about 10 miles south of Charles City. Even that far out it was a scary experience. My dad barely made it back from the field losing the lids off the planter due to the wind. Huddled beneath the basement stairs we listened to the radio till it went off the air. My old elementary school McKinley was obliterated in that storm. I remember that my dad and one of our neighbors took their chainsaws to help with the cleanup. What they saw when they arrived in town was something that never left them. To this day when we talk about it my dad says that a lot of the area was unrecognizable. Thank God there wasn't as much loss of life as there could have been considering the amount of damage the town took.

Dad Bode said...

Online link to the song:
http://homepage.mac.com/albodespanish/blackwednesday.html

BLACK WEDNESDAY

It happened in Charles City, on the fifteenth day of May.
The black tornado struck the trees and blew them half away.
The houses fell like toothpicks and started to decay,
While families were separated, looking for homes to stay.

The bright red flashing sirens carried people bent with pain.
The silence of the aftermath was followed by the rain.
Those who heard it come and go had thought it was a train.
Now they wondered if they’d ever see the sunny skies again.

But helping hands from strangers, and neighbors no one knew,
Built a human tower of courage to help the homeless,
The injured, and the speechless.
The refugees the black sky left behind,
As its destruction pass on through.

The cars on downtown corners were glassless and obscured.
Discouragement was mumbled, but scarcely ever heard.
People who lost everything were glad to be alive,
While those untouched were hoping that their city could survive.

The search went out for relatives and friends who’d disappeared,
And with the dark of nightfall, the worst was more than feared.
Then faces missed for hours found their way to food and beds,
While visions of the Killer kept churning madly through their heads.

How nice the bridge had looked, when the first cars came across!
Now tangled steel and iron greeted doctors,
And guardsmen, and the curious,
The eyes who saw the vicious path,
And vowed to save the town from further loss.

We’ll rebuild Charles City, this mission we all know.
There is no time to sit around and allow dissent to grow.
The feeling of togetherness, of helping others live
Has brought us all new hope for in some way, we all give.

Give shelter to the homeless, and cure the wounds through time:
Let’s listen to confusion die away now,
Within our city, this very city,
Which learned that it could overcome,
When Black Wednesday visited and ran.
The blackest day of all, my fellow man.

Jeff Heller said...

I will never forget May 15, 1968 as long as I live. I was so happy that our farm was spared from the tornado but we watched it east of us then turned north and went right into town .Ill never forget the guy on KCHA saying that he was going outside to look at the weather , and came back to say O my God here It comes!! Then the radio station went blank. I looked at my mother and she started crying say the hole town was probably gone .I was so glad to see my dad coming home from town !! He was building a house north of town with the Triad crew. It was days and days after the storm that my dad would come home and cry like a baby from working in his town he loves so much. I sit here writing this with tears in my eyes. But with all the great people the town is still the best town in this country to be raised in!! Thanks Jeff Heller 2358 Welaka Trail 32309

Margo (Mayfield) Lind said...

I was not quite six years old when the tornado hit, but I can still remember it as clear as if it were yesterday. I remember being terrified of the noise and furious that my Dad was holding my little brother, not me. After the storm, when we came up out of the cellar, we had big trees down across the road blocking the route to the hospital. A car drove up on our lawn to go around the trees, with the trunk open and carrying what I am sure was one of the day's fatalities. A family we were friends with came walking down the street. They were dazed. Their home was gone. They were so dazed they didn't know who we were. They walked right past us. We walked to my Grandparents house, where luckily everyone was unharmed. I still get tears in my eyes when I read about or think about that day. I have lived through three serious hurricanes, and will take those any day over a tornado,

Lori said...

I was 8 yrs. old at the time, but I still remember that afternoon vividly. Running across the street and into my grandparents basement, the roaring freight train noise followed by complete silence. The huge tree in our front yard across the street laying next to the house. We were among the fortunate that didn't suffer any significant damage. I remember laying on the floor in the dark that night listening to sirens and chainsaws. To this day I get a little freaked out when the sky gets that awful green color.

Al Bode said...

My son, Sean, and I were at the corner of Riverside and Wisconsin Streets, dead center between the two bridges in Charles City, approximately where the Charles City Public Library is today. We had left the apartment building and were heading to pick up my wife, Patricia, at the Dairy Queen, where she was working. We were lifted into the air and as I grabbed Sean and dived into the back seat, glass was blown out of the windshield and slammed into my head. I could see the papers on the windows of the old IGA grocery store blowing out, instead of in. The store was closed, and was being remodeled. It was not until later that I realized that the paper was blowing out because the roof had been blown off the building. I blacked out and came to on top of my son, whose face was full of blood. We got out of the car and I got back to the apartment, filled a bucket with water and washed his face to discover he had a measles-like appearance due to the blowing debris. Neither of us suffered any broken bones. It was not until later, when I finally
reached the DQ that Patricia and I discovered I had bled on him with the glass cuts in my scalp. (Two shards of glass did work their way out in the next few months.) I went to the local hospital first and then opted to go to the Mason City Hospital, where I remained until Friday. In that interim, I composed a song in my mind which later was used in a video and a two-record documentary about the tornado. The song was "Black Wednesday" and the words are performed online at
http://homepage.mac.com/albodespanish/blackwednesday.html.
We arrived in Charles City in 1967. We were planning to stay a couple of
years and then move to a larger system. We ended up staying forever, as I taught Spanish for 37 years and my wife is still the HS assistant librarian!

Barbara Fuls said...

On May 15, 1968 I was a senior at Nashua High School getting ready for our senior prom, which was scheduled for May 17th at Club Iowa. I remember being outside that day for gym class and the weather was unseasonably hot. My girlfriend, Norma Ridder, and I were planning on coming to Charles City after school and my mother said there were storm warnings out and we could not go. We were upset but glad we listened to her.
After the storm passed, I remember trying to get into town with my family and checking on my grandmother who lived on Salzer Street. We were stopped and asked where she lived and being told that that part of town had not been hit, she was safe. My other grandparents were not so fortunate. Heine and Emma Mohring lived north of town and their entire farm was hit, the only building left was the house. Gone were the chicken houses where I had gathered eggs, the red barn where I played in the hay loft, the grainery where I had a play house and the rest of the buildings so familiar to my childhood. Grandma had watched the barn go and then headed for the root cellar for safety.
My memories include the stillness, the hail and the rain. I remember listening to KCHA that night, the static, and panic in the announcer’s voice.
The following days and months were of disbelief that the town we had known and knew so well was gone forever and all that was left were our memories of how it was before the storm. As for the prom, it did go on, just as our lives did. The beauty parlor, I believe it was the Golden Curl, where all of my friends and I were to get our hair done was gone, we all got together and did each other’s hair. It was held in the Nashua High School Gym and not Club Iowa. Graduation day came and went in the following weeks.

Melodee White said...

My 2 sons,Dean age 5 and Kurt 3 on tornado date, were with their grandmother Florene Leach of whom was one of the deceased from the horrible day. They were on their way to the basement of the Leach home on N Grand Ave when it hit. Dean was found by the foundation of where the garage used to be and Kurt was by his grandma's side next to the house foundation and where an object had fallen on Florene and crushed her. She passed on her way to the Waverly Hospital in ambulance and the two boys were located by Red Cross of which contacted their mother Melodee. Melodee had been searching for her sons for 4 hrs before learning where and what hospital they were taken. The boys were young enough not to remember the drama, but their mother, Melodee will never forget or get over the feeling of the fear of what happened to her sons until they were located. Melodee herself, was at work at the Melody Lounge and was thrown in the basement by her boss as she frozen when watching the funnel cloud over the Luthern church coming toward the town with lots of debris in the funnel. A motorcycle took her to the N end of town to where her in-laws house used to be and nothing but the basement was left. There was a kite put together laying there, but yet a freezer full of food, and all other heavy appliances and furniture were gone. When reaching that location a neighbor Mrs. Rausch told her that Florene and the boys had been taken to the hospital. Naturally, you would think Charles City hospital, so there she went. She contacted Mr (Leland) Leach there as was the janitor for Hospital. He did not know his home was gone, when asked where Florene and the boys were, he replied that they were home. Melodee then told him there was no home left and they were to be at hospital. He and nurses checked all the halls, rooms and morgue. They were no where to be found. Melodee was told to go back to her house and wait as they had the Red Cross checking other locations.
Virgil Jacobson, family friend and with the Red Cross told Melodee's parents when they reached the hospital looking for Melodee and sons, that the boys were at the Waverly hospital. They went to Melodee's and found Mr Leach and told him the Florene did not survive and he had to go to Nashua for phone service and gasoline to contact his children and then on to Waverly to meet with Melodee. Melodee found her 2 blond headed boys together in one room. Only they had darker hair, due to the dirt that was inbedded in their heads. They had been given tetnus shots and just had a few cuts and scrapes. They were very lucky and VERY HAPPY to see their mother. They were released the next day. Their mother still has the shirts that the boys were wearing that day.

Rose said...

May 15th is an anniversary that I have rarely forgotten in these last forty years. Can it have been forty years?

I was a junior in high school and also a telephone operator for the telephone company. That morning I had stayed home from school and at noon I walked to the junior high to get a bus to the high school. I remember stopping on the corner of Jackson and Ferguson. I just stopped and noticed the air and the sky and the feeling all around me. Now I call that pre-tornado air. It felt unusual but I didn't know what it was at the time.

After school I went to work. We used the old switchboard with all its cords and switches, which is now ancient history. We were the telephone operators for a large area including Rudd, Nashua, Marble Rock and a lot of small towns. At some point, we started to get people calling in and reporting that there was a tornado. We relayed the information to the sheriff’s office. People were calling in but it didn’t make sense since they were calling in from different areas. We couldn’t have known then that there were separate tornadoes that would come together outside of Charles City. People called in, “There’s a tornado in my back yard!” “Go to the basement!” we told them. I can still recall the disbelief in their voices. There were so many calls like that.

Then, about ten to five the tornado began its rumbling journey through town. For us at the telephone company, there was nowhere to go so we just kept answering calls. When we could hear it approaching, we all jumped under the switchboard, covered our faces and then heard the roof come off and people’s screams. One woman was dragged from one end of the room to another. I was huddled beside a person and I remember hearing her say, “Oh, my gosh!” I could tell she watching it and was not covering herself and I gave her a hit and said, “Cover your face!”

Finally, all was silent. Absolutely silent. It was a silence and stillness that I shall never forget. Nothing moved. Not us and certainly not a bird or leaf or anything. My eyes were still closed and all kinds of thoughts went through my mind. Finally we heard the choked-up voice of one of the men who had come into the room from the back equipment area. He said, “Is anybody ok?” Not, “Is everybody ok?” but “Is anybody ok?” When he saw the room, he imagined that we all might be dead. The sound of his voice brought us all back and we scrambled out and from under the debris. There were some injuries but we were very fortunate.

The mind does funny things to protect itself in these situations. I remember looking across the street at the house on the corner. I could see the refrigerator and said, “Oh, that house is fine.” The school kitty corner from us was almost gone but somehow, seeing the remaining walls, I felt it was just damaged. Now I understand that I was in shock.

The telephone equipment could not be used so we went out of the building, each looking for his or her family. Somehow, I started down what must have been Wisconsin. We stopped along the way inquiring about people who were coming up out of their basements. “Yes, I’m fine” one old woman said who had blood on her face, and so on down the road. People were very civil and congenial.

I passed by a car dealership where people were attending to someone who had been hurt. I asked if there was anything I could do. I walked further and then turned around and on the way back inquired again if I could help. No, they said, noone could help him. It was at that moment that I could begin to see the reality of what had happened. A man who had been living moments before was dead. I looked around. I did not have to “go outside” as everything was “outside”. I looked at the St. Charles Hotel and could see that the windows had all been blown out, curtains dangling out the windows.

At that moment, for the first time, I thought seriously about my family. Previously, I just could not imagine that they would not be ok. Suddenly seeing it all, I started to run, a bandage trailing behind me like a tail. When I got to Richings, I ran down the street and met my Dad, Joe Byrne. He was on his way to walk to his mother’s house. Seeing him, I just threw myself in his arms and began to weep. Everyone was ok, he said. He was going to check on Grandma, Hazel Byrne. I continued down the street and got into the house and although I was full of shock and wanted to cry out, I saw my young brothers and sisters and I didn’t want to frighten them more than they were already frightened so I began to complain about the small cut on my leg.

I changed my clothes and went out again to see if there was some way I could help. I could go on and on about all the experiences and I never tire of hearing the experiences of others.

I met a woman at Trowbridges who was terrified because her daughter’s house across from Trowbridges was gone. Only the open basement remained. She was out of control. She said she was in no condition to drive her car so I told her that I would drive her out to the hospital. We drove over trees and debris and it is truly amazing that we made it there. I remember the expression on her face! Perhaps my driving helped take her mind off the situation. Her daughter’s family was not there at the hospital and by the time we got back to where her daughter’s house had been (she drove!), there was a sign there that all were ok and giving their location.

That night the air was filled with chain saws, the sounds of ambulances and police cars and fear and sadness.

A day or two later, as I was walking down Richings toward downtown, I saw a robin. I stopped in my tracks to watch her. She was busy picking up some sticks and she must have been working to make a new nest. On the corner of Jackson and Richings I saw a retired man pounding on his roof fixing it. Although it was many years before I “got over” the event, now I know that both were signs from God that life would go on.

Maybe we never “get over” an event of such proportions. If you ask anyone who was there in Charles City that day, you will hear a story. I honor the people who died and those who suffered and those who worked to recreate Charles City. In the midst of it all, I remember the kindnesses of people whose names are long forgotten and the heart of a good people who do whatever they can do to help one another. Those are things worth remembering.

Rosemary Byrne Yokoi
Minneapolis

meg said...

I a warm humid spring day. I was headed to Larson and Carr's attorneys office to sign the papers on my first house. I parked my 1960 Ford Starlinder in front of Doc Vollum's garage. We had been in the office, in the old Adrian Implement building less than 5 minutes when the secretary came in and said "it's coming". We got under this huge oak conference table and watched the roof lift up and drop down. It sounded like a freight train was running over us. Later, we went out to see the used car lot across the street with cars twisted up in a pile. Around the corner where I parked the second story of Doc Vollum's had collapsed on my car crushing it to the ground as well as a Sears service van that had pulled in behind it (The driver was killed). We walked to our new home on S. Iowa and hardly a branch was broken. I'll obviously never for get that day.

Anonymous said...

I was 6 years old and school (kindergarten) was just about over for the season. I don’t remember anything very remarkable about the day until swimming lessons were over at the YMCA. Kendra Budwig and I were standing at the front doors of the Y waiting for Kendra’s mom to come pick us up. The sky was a dark green color and it began to hail as we waited for our ride. I remember Mrs. Frye coming to the front door to get us and the rest of the kids that were waiting. We went back down into the lobby and were told to sit “Indian” style with our hands over our heads. Within a matter of moments the lights went out. Kids were starting to cry when the loud noise of the tornado came. We could hear glass breaking all around us and it got very, very dark. Those moments during the storm are blurry because of all that was going on. I do remember seeing a man come down the steps into the lobby carrying a little girl. He was in a white tank t-shirt and his one arm was covered in blood. It was the first time that I had ever seen that amount of blood.
It was over as fast as it had started. Other than kids crying, it was really quiet outside. You could feel that the temperature had really fallen and the smell of rain was strong in the air. I sometimes still smell that when a storm is approaching, a combination of rain and dirt. There was a big tree that had made its way through the front door and we all ended up having to climb up and out of the doors. I remember seeing parts of the upper floors of the Y gone. Some furniture remained in the opened up walls as if it never moved from their places. There were people still up in those rooms looking down, having been caught up in their rooms with no warning of where to go.
I can remember it being cold and wet. There was mass chaos with all the kids wondering what to do next and the Y instructors trying to keep us all in one place. There were a bunch of girls from the 3rd Ave. neighborhood taking off for home and I tried to follow them leaving Kendra behind, (Sorry Kendra). I came back to her and we waited. Herb Budwig, her dad showed up and we walked to where he was parked, Immaculate Conception Church. That is as far as he could travel by car. I remember holding hands with him and Kendra and we would count to 3 as we jumped over live power lines. I remember seeing a house tipped so its roof was in the basement. We could see right through the front doors into a room where a piano was tipped and there were men in there trying to move the piano. I also remember shivering so hard that it hurt. It was just all too much for a 6 year old to take in.
We got to the church to see its destruction. Bricks were everywhere. People were walking round in a daze. We got half way up 3rd Ave. when we saw my dad walking toward uptown. He had walked home from Oliver and checked on our house before he set out to find me. My grandfather, Carl DeBower also did the same thing, but he got down to the Y to find out that I had already left. For days and days after wards the neighbor ladies would convene on the street corner to listen to transistor radios about the devastation and tell stories about all the heartaches of the storm. The kids would also tell their stories about watching Bart from "Barts Club House" telling them about the coming storm and to go to their basements. Or they would tell stories about hearing that someone's big toe was found in a mail box. We heard a lot of those stories!
To this day, I still have tornado nightmares. This time of the year is the worst with all the public service announcements about severe weather.
Karla (Schmitt) Goddard

Tim Anderson said...

Our family had just moved from New Hampton the previous summer as my father was a pilot at the airport. I had just turned 5 in March of 1968 and my sister was 5 months old. Our house was on Cedar Street between 3rd and 4th Streets. I would have attended McKinley Elementary in the fall.

On the 15th my mother, sister, and I were visiting friends at a new subdivision at the north end of town across the street from Washington Elementary. All of us kids were playing in the backyard. I believe I was the oldest and my sister was the youngest. The mothers were having coffee and cokes and the babies were taking naps.

My mother told me earlier to tell her if it started to rain so she could roll the windows up in the car. When it did start to rain, she ran out and did so, and then we all came in the house. One of the ladies, Galene Sobolik, who also had her children, Kris and Patrick there, mentioned that it sounded like a train was coming and someone yelled, "it's a tornado," and we all scrambled to get to the basement with mother grabbing napping babies.

We got to the basement just as the tornado it. All I remember is a horrible "whoosh" and the entire house was ripped off the foundation and landed on the house across the street. After it passed, the lady who owned the house, I have since forgotten her name, had been picked up and was sitting on a table. The swingset from the backyard was on top of all of us. My mother, Karen Anderson, was the tallest and she crawled out and helped everyone else out. I barely remember going across the street to another house and going into the basement. That house still had the first floor. An older girl gave me a teddy bear, which I still have to this day. Our car, was supposedly thrown against a pole or tree and bent in half. I do remember how quiet it was after it hit.

After it was decided that no more storms were coming, our group walked to down town to Drs. Trefz and Tolliver's clinic behind the Carnegie Library. We got there to be checked out and while there I remember a women who had been standing in front of a plate glass window and was cut in many places from head to foot.

From the clinic we, I beleive, checked on my grandmother, Marlys Young, who lived in an apartment, next to what is today a bar on Mainstreet on the same block as the Uptown. From there, we continued to Galene's house which is located somewhere just north of Lincoln Elementary. We put water in buckets, I guess because the adults believed that the water might be bad, and stayed there for some time.

My father, Alan Anderson, had been at work at the airport, two miles to the east, and the entire crew there watched the whole thing unfold. At some point they all headed in to find family and friend and help with the recovery.

That is the last I remember of being in the town for some time. We eventually made it to my grandparent's house in New Hampton where we stayed for some length of time.

Our house on Cedar Street survived the tornado, but I guess it was a disaster. The garage was gone, all of the windows were broken and my mom told me later that mud covered the entire inside of the house. Most, if not all, of the houses behind us on Hildreth and further east were destroyed, as were Towbridges, McKinely Elementary, and other places. Our beagle, Buffy, who was tied to the garage also was gone, but he eventually returned to us two weeks later.

Later, when everything sort of settled down, I can remember going to St. Johns Luthern Church for a tetnus shot at the clinic they had set up there with the Red Cross, I believe.

I remember the next year or so, playing on the dirt mounds created by all of the building taking place in and around my house on Cedar Street. I don't really remember much of the damage being apparent after that as I grew up. McKinley Elementary became McKinley Hill and we used to race bikes in a dirt path where the playground was, sled down the hill there, and play touch football in the open area.

When I used to go up in a plane with my father I can remember him pointing out the path which was very evident due to the loss of all of the trees. I am amazed today when I return for a visit at how green everything looks and how mature the trees are.

In the end, I am sure that everyone who survived suffered some sort of trauma. I remember being absolutely terrified of storms and would gather all of my GI Joes and my teddy bear and "hide" or sit under the table in the basement where we went when things got bad. I am no longer scared, but do take them seriously and am the first to send my family to the basement.

I am absolutely convinced that the town, while it suffered some horrific times during and following the tornado and with the collapse of the farm economy in the late 70's and early 80's is one of the finest towns anywhere. When I go home, I am proud of have grown up there.

Tim Anderson
Buckner, KY

Guitar Ted said...

I was seven years old on that day in 1968 and I remember vividly the whole day. I was attending McKinley School in the first grade and it was a very hot, windy day, as I recall. After school, I can recall walking past leon & Genes Texaco to stop and gawk at the wrecks they had recently towed in.

I was walking across the relatively new Brantingham Bridge on my way home. We had just moved only three days prior to the corner of Fourth and B Street right on Highway 18. I used to live on South Johnson street before that.

As I did about every afternoon, I switched on the ol' black and white T.V. to see Bart's Clubhouse. I recall Bart Curran, who was the stations weather man, telling us that a storm had hit Oelwein and I recall that he had an Iowa map on his knee with a ruler laying on it. He said, "Kids, if you live on either side of where I'm holding this ruler on the map, you have a storm coming your way." Well, it was laid right smack dab through Charles City.

I was pretty agitated. I was telling my folks we had better do something, but both Mom and dad were incredulous and said to keep calm.

Well, things started looking bad. It got dark. Then it got darker. The rain started in, and then hail. Lots of hail bouncing off the highway, as I remember. Then I was called to the supper table as we ate right at 5:00 pm sharp every night.

Mom was serving up the fried eggs, beans, and toast when the lights went out. I looked out the open side door through the screen to see a passing car go by. Mom said, "There's funny clouds going round and round..."as she peered out side. Dad yelled, "Get in the basement!" I was the first to the door, but as I had never been in that basement yet, I pulled up and stopped, peering into the dank blackness. My Dad grabbed me and I turned for one last look out that door to see a huge Basswood tree falling across the highway. The rumble, rumble, rumble down the stairs and crouching near a basement window. My Dad was peering out tentatively. Mom was holding my younger sister Laurie who was crying. We could hear crashing and glass breaking upstairs.

What seemed like an hour, but was in reality about a minute, passed and I recall the thunderous roar subsiding, a high pitched whistling noise fading away, and then brilliant sunshine!

We crawled out from that basement to a world that was forever etched into my memory banks.

Walking around town, I saw the car that had passed our house just before the tornado hit smashed on it's top. I was shocked thinking that the person driving it might still be in that car, dead....or worse!

Clothes flapping in the trees, dazed and confused people wandering around, and total devastaion everywhere just west of our resisdence. It was amazing!

We had kerosene lamps on that night and for several nights afterwards. When we finally went to bed, I recall looking out my window seeing my Dad directing traffic on Highway 18 through our yard to help cars avoid the hot wire laying in the road. Sirens screamed all night long. I recall having a very difficult time falling asleep.

In the days afterwards we watched bull dozers knock stuff down and cart it away in dump trucks. The utility man came by about a week later to check on our gas and electric service. He had many stories to tell of how people had gone through that day that I'll never forget.

I thought it was a bad deal since as a kid, you couldn't go play anywhere for parents fear of you getting cut, knocked out by falling debris, or falling into open basements and refuse piles.

I remember people wearing "Tornado City" sweatshirts and t-shirts in the years just after the storm. I wonder if anybody still has one of those.

In later years it was always cool to scavenge for bicycles that were strewn about the edges and wild places around Charles city. This was the beginnings of my love for cycling, and I am a bicycle mechanic now in 2008.

Dark skies still bring on that ominous feeling. I suppose I'll never get over that.

Mark Stevenson
Waterloo, IA

Elaine Mead said...

Life circumstances can change in an instant. On April 15, 1968 Elaine Mead went from a carefree high school senior to fearing for her life in under an hour.
Mead was a senior at Charles City High School “anxiously awaiting to get out of school early before everyone else.” On Wednesday, April 15, 1968, Mead and a friend were running errands around town after school. With the end of school looming, she was happily going about her daily routine, and chose to ignore some of the early weather warnings.
“We had heard on the radio that a tornado was coming, but being a senior we didn’t believe anything would happen,” she said.
After completing her errands, Mead and her friend noticed that Main Street had cleared out and was eerily calm. They became nervous and started to leave town, going down Main Street and taking a left onto Gilbert.
“Around Dairy Queen we looked over the trees and saw this huge black thing — it didn’t look like a skinny little tornado, it was more like a cloud with debris.
“All I knew to do was get out of the vehicle and lay down on low ground,” Mead recalled.
“I thought ‘I might be dying today.’ You just don’t know what to think really because of the fear.”
The edge of the tornado passed near enough to them to blow out windows in nearby buildings and uproot trees around them. Mead and her friend were able to head for the family farm west of Charles City without a scratch.
When they arrived at Mead’s home, Elaine told her parents what had happened and they returned to town.
“It was just like what I would think of being a war zone. The trees were all stripped and I remember seeing sizzling power lines on the ground. It was dark and eerie and you could see emergency lights flashing.
“It was amazing because you could not drive down a street because of all the trees. You just had to walk around everything and you saw people walking around in a daze kind of bloody and everyone was just shocked,” Mead remembered.
Mead also recalled that the mood at graduation that year was “a little more somber than it should have been.”

Dixie Fox said...

When the May 15 tornado struck First Methodist Church, Dixie Fox knew she had to protect her children, even if that meant she would be in harm’s way.
Fox was with a church group out at Wildwood when a neighbor informed her of the incoming storm. She hurried back to First Methodist Church, and was waiting obtain more information from the minister when she “heard an explosion,” which immediately caused her to take her group of children towards the basement.
“For some reason or other, we didn’t go to the basement. We turned and ended up in an entryway,” she remembered.
In the small space, Fox and her group — which included two of her own children, daughter DeDi, 4, and son Dave, 5 — crammed into a corner in an effort to best avoid a hazard on the other side of the room.
“There was a great big window just opposite of us, and when the storm hit, it was so loud. I yelled for DeDi and they yelled back for me, and even though we were on top of each other, we had to scream to hear each other.”
Dixie realized Dave was left facing the window under the pile. She positioned herself the best she could to block flying debris. Dave was uninjured after the tornado blew apart the window.
“It was a miracle that something didn’t hit him because I thought I was gone because things kept hitting me,” Dixie said.
Eventually, Dixie had to have glass hand-picked out of her back. However, she first realized the gravity of the situation when she walked towards her home on Cedar Street.
As she was walking, she recalled seeing people walking from Main Street with “blood all over.” The old fire whistle slowly whined in the distance before it died as the tornado left the area.
“I had to carry DeDi all the way home,” Dixie said. “I thought that everything was going to be fine, but when I turned the corner I looked at the block across the street and it was just annhilated.
“A neighbor told me not to go any further, and I burst out bawling — I was in shock.”
Her house, which had just been completed after 13 years of building, had sustained major damage.

Jim Hilgendorf said...

At the age of 25, Jim Hilgendorf plunged right into the middle of the carnage that followed the tornado.
As a member of an ambulance crew, Hilgendorf and Wes Banks were out on a call when the tornado was bearing down on Charles City. They got to a basement before the twister passed through, but when they re-emerged they had work to do.
Hilgendorf and Banks drove the ambulance down Gilbert Street until they reached the courthouse.
“We looked across (the river) and it was a war zone,” Hilgendorf recalled.
The ambulance crew maneuvered their vehicle across the river to offer aid.
“We picked up our first person right about where City Hall is now,” Hilgendorf said. “We picked up a lot more than one person.”
To get from the downtown area to the hospital, they had to cut across yards to avoid downed trees and power lines.
While at the hospital, things were thrown into a frenzy.
“I saw one guy who was brought in on a door,” Hilgendorf remembered.
That night, Hilgendorf and Banks worked about 4-5 extra hours, and dealt with a variety of injuries. “We had some pretty bad ones,” he said.
The tornado did put a strain on the town’s medical resources, but Hilgendorf cited an impressive volunteer effort that kept emergency services operational.
“You couldn’t believe the help that poured into this town, it was really something.”

Teresa Carr said...

The Hauser Funeral Home was a stately, two-story dwelling that included a spacious apartment above first-floor visitation rooms, an office area and a lower level burial preparation area. Carl and his wife Alice had raised a family while living in the funeral home. Their son, Kip had recently joined the family business. Carl and Kip had spent long hours that spring working on an addition to the funeral home that would provide display space for caskets. On May 14th, they had received a semi-truck load of caskets, their largest inventory ever. Just a day’s work remained until they could call the addition finished. On the afternoon of May 15, Carl had just finished a funeral and there were no upcoming services on the schedule. Except for Carl and his assistant Mac Jones, who lived next door, the funeral home was empty. Carl’s wife Alice was out of town for the day. Kip and his wife Judy were attending a funeral director’s conference in Des Moines. Unless a call came for Carl to pick up a body, it appeared that this particular Wednesday evening would be a quiet one. In fact, it was the quiet that caught Carl’s attention as he parked the funeral coach in the garage. Carl went and stood in the driveway for a moment, awed by the palpable stillness had crept up from the river. It was more than the absence of bird song and insect buzz. It was the presence of something, a change in the quality of air that meant that something was coming. Carl ran into the funeral home, realizing that the quiet was soon to be dangerously disturbed. “Mac, let’s get to the basement,” he called. Mac said that he was going to run to his home next door instead. He needed to help his wife and blind mother, but Carl convinced him that there would be no time. Within moments of getting to the basement, Carl and Mac were blackened with dirt that sifted down through the rafters as the tornado shook the house. Debris blocked the doorways out of the basement, but Mac fought his way through and ran home where he found his wife and mother standing at the top of the stairs, stunned but unhurt. Carl immediately ran down Blunt Street to the YMCA where Kip and Judy’s children were enrolled for afternoon swim lessons. Fortunately, their babysitter had kept them at home because of the weather.
On his way back home, Carl got his first full view of the tornado’s damage to their home and business. Their apartment had been torn off the top of the house and parts of the front of the building were missing. The newly-built casket display area looked more like an open deck than a finished room. The addition had been constructed out of 12 inch concrete blocks set with 13 thirty-foot reinforcing rods. The Hausers later found nine of the rods driven into the ground by the Masonic Temple, four blocks to the northwest. Without the reinforcing rods, the concrete block walls tumbled to the ground. Caskets were strewn into the next block. Carl also found that a body had been carefully placed on the front lawn with one of the funeral cots from the funeral coach. The garage door was blocked by a huge pile of concrete blocks that had tumbled onto the driveway from the new addition. Rescuers had worked their way through a small opening in the garage wall, helped themselves to the cot in the funeral coach and placed the body where they trusted Carl would find it. They also knew that Carl would recognize the deceased and know how to honor the family’s wishes. Carl dragged the body into the funeral home. There was nothing more he could do right then and there, so he went back out to see if their neighbors needed help.
Meanwhile, Kip and Judy had finished the funeral director’s conference in Des Moines and were heading back home. With the Des Moines skyline in their car’s rearview mirror, Kip said to Judy, “If I would have stayed home today, I could have gotten all those little things done in the new addition.” Judy replied, “I’m sure it will all be waiting for you when we get home.” The car radio was tuned to a Des Moines station. At about 5:45 PM, an announcer reported that downtown sections of Charles City and Oelwein had been hit by tornadoes. Kip sped up and the radio station went to a commercial break. Long moments later, the announcer came back on, only to report that there was little information coming out of Charles City because the city’s telephone company had been knocked out of commission. Northwestern Bell Telephone Company was one block north of the funeral home. Kip flipped on his hazard lights and covered the remaining 100 miles in an hour. As Kip and Judy approached Charles City on highway 18, they were forced to pull over half a dozen times to let ambulances pass into town. At the Seven Mile Corner west of town, they were stopped by a National Guard blockade and asked to show proof of residency to go any further. National Guard soldiers stopped them again in front of Salsbury Laboratories on Highway 18 and a third time a short distance up the road at the American Legion Hall. At the final blockade, a National Guard soldier approached Kip’s car and apologized for the inconvenience. “I’m sorry, you won’t be able to go in. We’ve had a very bad tragedy here today.”
From that particular vantage point, the only positive sign they had was that the trees were whole and fully-leaved as far to the right as they could see. They hoped that this meant that their home was spared with their children safe inside. Kip replied, “We just live a few blocks beyond this point. Our parents and children are in town. We have to go in.” The guard again apologized and stood his ground. Judy stayed out of the conversation until she sensed that the poor guard was in danger of being taken off duty by her increasingly agitated husband. When Kip started to get out of the car, Judy piped in, “Please sir, our children…” The soldier then asked Kip, “What do you do here, sir?” When Kip replied that he was a funeral director, the guard said, “Good God, go on in. We need you bad.” Kip and Judy went straight to their home on Charles Street and found their children safe with a neighborhood sitter. Their home had broken windows, but no serious damage. Judging by the guardsman’s comments, Kip anticipated that he would need to take more than the sedan he was driving to the funeral home, so he drove the family’s station wagon downtown. Kip took South Main Street toward the center of town, driving across lawns where other cars had already carved a path to get around trees blocking the road. Turning from Main to Blunt Street, Kip was able to drive only a block or so before he was stalled by huge elms trees that lay sprawled across the street, crushing several cars. Kip left the car near the old YMCA and walked to the funeral home.
Inside the funeral home, the ceremonious order of the foyer and visitation rooms had been violated with a spray of mud and glass. The curtains hung in shreds and water dripped from the ceiling. Kip found a woman’s body on a funeral cot. He knew her well. Sadie Chambers had been their grandmotherly neighbor across Blunt Street for many years. Kip looked through every lonely room of the funeral home, then went out into the neighborhood. Rain began a “drip, drip, drip,” adding to the hiss of leaking gas pipes and the gurgle of broken water pipes in surrounding homes. Finding no one who knew anything of his father, Kip returned to the funeral home. Carl had been scouting around the neighborhood as well, helping where he could, but never crossing paths with Kip until they finally met back up at the funeral home. Without electricity and running water, they would not be able to prepare bodies for burial there. Kip went back out to the streets and flagged down a man in an earth-moving truck who could clear a path from their garage and on down Blunt Street. Carl and Kip then drove the funeral coach and Kip’s station wagon to the hospital where they suspected that there was work to be done.
With the onslaught of injured persons streaming into the hospital, the dead had been hastily moved to the morgue. None of the bodies had yet been tagged with any type of identification but Carl knew the name of each person. He also knew who would have likely called him and who would have called Hage Funeral Home across town. Hage was not damaged but it was without utilities as well. Carl took two bodies to a Nashua funeral home and Kip took three bodies to Champion Funeral Home in Osage. When Kip arrived at Champion, their tiny embalming room was already occupied by one tornado victim, an unidentified male. As Kip was preparing the bodies for burial, Floyd County Sheriff L. L. Lane arrived to document the identities of the 3 victims Kip had delivered and gather information about the other victim. Kip worked at the Osage funeral home until after midnight. As he drove back toward Charles City, he was awestruck by the utter darkness where the city lights should have been glowing on the horizon. At home, Judy had left a candle burning for Kip on the kitchen counter. Though she meant it to be welcoming, it stirred anxious thoughts of fire.
Kip drove back downtown to the funeral home where he knew there was a supply of sturdier tall glass candleholders. The funeral home’s basement was as familiar to him as any place on earth, but the extreme stillness and absence of light evoked the creeps beyond anything he’d ever known, even by a seasoned mortician’s standards. Rain and wind banged doors on creaky hinges as he searched for the candles with the thin beam of his flashlight. As he ascended the basement steps with the box of candle holders, a National Guard jeep with a mounted machine gun cut through the stillness on Blunt Street. Among other things, the guards were patrolling for looters. Kip crept stealthily to his car, careful not to invite a discussion about what he was doing carrying cargo out of a funeral home at 2:00 a.m.
In the hours since Kip had conferred with Sheriff L. L. Lane about the unidentified body in the Osage funeral home, the sheriff had scouted every locale in town where he thought he might find someone who could identify the victim. It would be nearly 24 hours after the storm before Sheriff Lane could place a name for the young man and provide a beginning step toward closure for his family. About the time that Kip Hauser was trying to solve his lighting dilemma, the sheriff was summoned to Gibson’s Department Store on the corner of Main and Blunt Streets.
A portion of the store had collapsed like a house of cards under the tornado’s fury. Store officials immediately accounted for their employees and several customers who escaped with bruises, cuts and broken bones. However, they could not say for sure how many shoppers might have been inside the store when the tornado hit. Rescuers had continued to search through the layers of rubble late into the evening. At 11 p.m., Sheriff Lane called off all manual labor in the downtown area. Allowing rescuers to enter unstable buildings in the dark could simply lead to more trouble. Around midnight, the sheriff, an ambulance crew and several volunteers responded to a report of a person trapped inside Gibson’s. By this time, a second severe storm had pounded the city with heavy rain and straight-line winds, causing the strata of rubble to settle into even tighter layers.
In the pitch black stillness on Main Street, Sheriff Lane shined his flashlight into the tiny opening near the front of Gibson’s store where the victim was reportedly trapped. The eerie blue stream of light shone on a head of light brown, curly hair. The rest of the victim’s body was hidden in the rubble. Sheriff Lane called to the victim repeatedly with no response. Rescuers stood by with a stretcher while Sheriff Lane squeezed himself farther into the opening and reached for the victim, who he guessed to be a woman. He grasped a handful of her hair, but was disheartened to find that the top of her head felt cold. Still, there might be a chance that she was still alive. If only he could pull her through the narrow opening without setting off a further collapse. Stretching his hand wide over the top of her head and gathering a firm fistful of hair, he pulled as hard as he could. Outside the store, rescuers heard the sheriff emit a small scream followed by the only laughter they would hear from him that night. Sheriff Lane shimmied back out of the tunnel and tossed forth the fruits of his rescue attempt: a woman’s wig from a store mannequin.

Anonymous said...

I first want to thank the staff at the Charles City Press for setting up this blog. It's a great idea and the stories shared are extremely interesting.
Only 2 % of the tornadoes in the U.S. are as high as an F5 and to have so many hit on one day is unbelievable. And the amazing job the survivors of the storms did in rebuilding their town, with hard work, dedication, determination and sometimes humor is a testament to the quality people that live in IA. I've been working on a personal Charles City tornado project for the last couple of years, I hope to have a permanent website created soon for others to share their stories. I've researched stories from other individuals who survived the storm and sometimes family members who are still alive to tell their stories. I have thousands of photos, including before and after photos of beautiful buildings and structures in Charles City. Although this was an act of nature...it was our version of Sep. 11th when I was a kid, in a sense that everything we knew changed or was lost that day. The schools, the historical buildings, churches and homes. And the devestated lives from injured or lost loved ones. We lived north of town about 7 miles. I remember the hot windy day and looking up into sunny but puffy clouds and hearing thunder in the middle of the afternoon as we attended a grade school track meet. As we traveled home on the bus route home the rain hit and our neighbor, Mary Reams had a small blue transitor radio and reported a tornado was near Greene and heading toward Charles City. Our dad was waiting at the end of the mile long driveway to pick us up and take us home. When we arrived I remember looking out side to see the ground being covered by golf ball size hail and the wind was fierce. A moment later the hail, rain and wind all stopped. I went to the kitchen to report this to my mom and my brother came running in saying "it's coming...or I think it's coming I think it's the tornado". My siblings and I all went to the basement when the electricity started to blink off. And we waited in the dark, while my parents watched the storm hit about a mile away from our house. We were fortunate, but that night nothing could have prepared us for the sights we saw of torn up farms, tractors wrapped around trees, dead horses and livestock and farm owners walking their land dazed and looking for items or animals. We drove to the hill north of Charles City but we couldn't see the town, since we were in a downpour of rain. But we listened to the radio and the empty sounds of endless list of individuals that were missing. I will never forget that day.

"Dad Bode" spoke of the apartment building he was near...I believe I have a photo of that place. About 5 weeks ago, I spoke with the funeral director of Hauser Funeral Home, and they didn't live in the house at that time. However, Teresa's detailed story made this very complete. Mrs. Chambers who lost her life in the storm, was heading to the basement with her son-in-law and daughter when she was crushed by the debris. The house she lived at, the Buster Star home was only a block or two from Hauser's Funeral Home. The tornado literally cut the house in half. I ran across an old newspaper article about the church group out at Wildwood, Dixie's story helps fill in what happened. The Gibson Discount story was amazing, the total structure collapsed. About 12 individuals made it to the basement. However a customer, Myrtel Shapley didn't along with a young clerk. Both had to be dug out of the store. Mrs. Shapley suffered a broken leg. It's amazing that more individuals did not lose their lives, especially children. I remember reading about a young man, a high school student teacher who was only 22 and had one last week left in Charles City. He lost his life in the Trowbridge parking lot. His wrecked volkswagen was tossed across the street to a gas station near the senior housing development.

There are other stories I remember, such as the Momberg's who lived north on Grand Ave. near 18th street. They owned a Mynah bird named Cocoa and they ran to the basement when the storm hit. Hazel made it to the basement and Floyd her husband hung onto a bench in the breezeway. Well like much of the area in the northern end of town, not much was left...except part of the kitchen and the bathroom. The Momberg's both survived and they heard through the rubble their Mynah bird say, "Floyd you SOB, you forgot the bird"! Apparently the bird picked up the colorful lanquage when he was scolding their pet dog for making a puddle on the carpet.

Another amazing story is of Craig Lynch who had just sold his house on Grand Ave.,(around 14th and Grand) after a year of being on the market. He went to the realtor's office at 4:00 and left for home around 4:30. About 15 minutes later they heard the large roar approaching and grabbed their 6 kids to head for the basement. The presser was intense and the soot and dirt flew from all directions as they heard boards and glass breaking. When he looked up at his basement window he noticed his neighbors house was 5 feet closer than normal. When he came upstairs he saw the devestation with trees down everywhere, and houses destroyed. His backyard neighborhood was obliterated. Part of his roof was gone and open to the elements. He walked around with some others helping injured neighbors and elderly out of basements and carrying them on wood doors to cars and station wagons. His house was a complete loss.

My friend Lois was in high school and at home in Oak Park that afternoon and unaware of the approaching tornado. The neighborhood of Oak Park fit the description of being on the "wrong side" of the tracks. One would enter from the new addition on north grand heading west on 17th or 18th street to Oak Park. As soon as you crossed the railroad tracks the road elevation went down a small hill and the houses were definitely not as new or nice as the houses above the tracks.
A young teenager friend came screaming into the house to warn Lois of the approaching storm. She went to get her grandmother and elderly church friends into the root cellar. Lois remembers seeing boards, houses and and tar paper fly through the tornado clouds and she was totally frightened. She went to get an elderly friend named "Sister Decker" who was somewhat blind and very religious. Ms. Decker was standing there steadfast with her bible rebuking the storm...Lois, scared for her life grabbed the elderly lady and fell on her into the root cellar. I'm wondering if Ms. Decker would have had as much faith had she been able to actually see what she was facing.
When the group came out of the cellar they didn't think their was much damage. A few tree limbs were down. Then they noticed the 2 foot flat limestone rock stuch in the side of the house, and the Herman family's garage had landed on the road. As they walked up the road to where the new addition of town had been they had realized how fortunate or blessed they were. For May 15, 1968, they lived on the "right" side of the tracks. And perhaps it was Ms. Decker's praying that saved them?

Eric Spurbeck said...

I was 2 when the tornado hit. We were living 5 miles north of Charles City in a rented farm house. My dad was working in town for Dick's 66(the old Buy Low by Mcdonalds). He saw it coming and grabbed the money outof the register and stuffed it into a bank bag and ran across the street and got underneath a park bench that was cemented to the ground next to the river and hung on for dear life. Hr escaped with minor cuts and scratches. Back at home we lost everything except for the north wall of the house. The door going through that wall was to mom and dads bedroom, on the otherside of the door was pair of overalls hanging on a hook that were untouched(amazing how it picks and chooses what to destroy). We were selected to recieve help from Max Anus fron New York gave my mom and dad a check for a down payment on the house they lived in for almost 40 years(where I grew up on 18th Ave.). That was about the best thing that happened after that day in May.

Vicky (Bremer) Lang said...

I was 11 years old and lived in New Hampton with my folks. My grandparents, Delbert and Naomi Anderson lived in Charles City on Sprigg Street. After the tornado struck we had no way of knowing if they were okay and my mom was beside herself with worry. My brother and I stayed with other family members in New Hampton while mom and dad drove to Charles City to check on grandma and grandpa. It was evening by the time they got to town. The National Guard initially would not let them into town but after some convincing did allow them through. My grandparents house was spared but they lost many beautiful trees on their street. They were very fortunate. My parents were visibly shaken from what they witnessed that night and the vision always stayed with them. They said it was as if they had entered a war zone. It was the worst thing they had ever seen.

Anonymous said...

I was born in Charles City in 1955. Later that year my folks moved my 3 brothers and me to Denver CO.

I remember coming home from school and my Mom freaking out watching grainy black and white t.v. images from Charles City.

I often wonder how our lifes would've been had we not moved to Denver.

I miss visiting Charles City and Greene where my Dad grew up.Last time was in 1989. I've never seen my birth town in the fall. Perhaps this coming fall! When is the peak coloring?

Good luck with the flooding this year. God bless you all.

Dave DeLong
Davede_long@yahoo.com

Karen said...

As I read through the post I recognized several names that sparked many memories. Barb Fuls I had forgotten you were so young back on May 15th. We later lived only a couple blocks away from each other, you and Larry on 18th Avenue and the Nygaards on 19th Avenue. I also found it interesting that from the last blog posted, we apparently lived on the “right side” of the tracks!!

May 15th, 1968, 40 years ago, I was the mother of a 2 year old and expecting a new baby on May 30th. I had just returned from a medical appointment with Dr. Trefz and went to neighbors, Phil and Sharon Koenigs to get our son. The weather was oppressive, hot windy and the sky was getting funny looking. Gene came home and was going to drive across the street and pick us up to all be together at out house. Phil was working late at White Farm. As Gene backed the car into the Koenigs garage he saw the dirt rising and 18th Avenue being ravaged by the funnel. Sharon and I had taken the 3 kids to the basement and were waiting for Gene to get inside. He had brought the dog and the dog refused to go into the basement. He let the dog go and made it to the basement in time to lean over and shelter the rest of us under the stair way. The roar was deafening and the noise of breaking glass and the screeching of nails being ripped from the timbers was all we could hear. Then there was silence, the awful silence. As Gene straightened up and looked up all he saw was clear sky. The house was completely gone. All that remained of the Koenigs house was the stairway that we had taken refuge under. One by one Gene started looking us all over, Sharon had cuts, 5 month old Michael had cuts, Kevin was okay and I had a gaping wound in my right calf. As we climbed out of the basement we realize that the kids are barefoot and have no jackets so we can’t sit them down. Our car that was in the garage has a timber straight through it and where our house had stood was nothing. In fact the whole neighborhood was gone. And still the silence!

A pick up from the chemical plant lumbers up from the “wrong side” of the tracks and Gene hails it down to transport me to the hospital. We leave Kevin our 2 year son with Sharon Koenigs who is assisted with 3 kids to the water plant and eventually strangers take them to Austin Minnesota to be with Sharon’s parents.

Getting to the hospital took 2 hours in and out of streets blocked by trees. I am conscious and remember finally getting to the Main Street Bridge and saying that Charles City was going to get it’s redevelopment like it or not. Some of you may recall it had just been voted down. Once I was at the hospital and safe, Gene went to find our son. My stay at Charles City hospital was only a few hours, my injuries could not be handled in Charles City due to all the chaos. I was transported by ambulance to Mason City unbeknownst to Gene. While I am in surgery, Gene and Phil Koenigs hitch hiked to Stacyville to get Phils parents car, our cars were damaged. After a frantic night Gene and I were finally reunited at Mason City Mercy Hospital. We were alive, we had nothing but each other and at this point that was all that counted.

On May 16th, 24 hours after the tornado we were blessed with a healthy baby girl, Mary Beth. Guess who turned 40 this year?

People helping people, this is the lesson to be remembered along with the pain and memories. Dean Kline and his family took our family of 5, my sister came to assist with kids since I was in a cast for 3 months, into his home for almost 2 months, Milo Molitor and his family found us a place to live, the nursing staff at Mercy Hospital organized and gave us clothes and toys for the kids, The Koenigs Family in Stacyville helped with the clean up at the addresses on 19th Avenue, SBA financed our home so we could rebuild, Red Cross gave us a table and chairs, clothes. Doesn’t sound like much? Remember it is all we had. Faith, friends and an uncertain future lay ahead.

Oh yes, the dog was found and went to live in Minneapolis with his former owner, My great Aunt Vivian from Milwaukee came to visit me in Mason City. She was in Charles City for a funeral. Mrs. Leach who died was her brother’s wife. Gene and I have lived in Texas, Ohio and Delaware and moved back to Denton Texas 3 years ago. We have 5 Grand kids and believe me they all know what bad weather looks like, they know to get their shoes and a jacket, stay calm and do what your parents say.

We will never forget that day nor will we ever forget those who helped us get back on our feet. Dean and Milo are no longer with us but we still have contact with their family members, those families that made us part of their family. Pass it on, it feels good!

Karen and Gene Nygaard

Anonymous said...

My name is Leesa Stanbro Siems, I was 10 and I will never forget the tornado of '68. Our home was destroyed by the tornado along with be comfortable in just sitting and watching a good ol thunderstorm. I can not sit still to this day when it gets stormy. It is a wonder that my kids survived their mom being a nervous wreak over storms. It is hard to understand how one feels unless they have been through one. We were all blessed that no one was hurt. My whole family was in the basement at the time, well, my dad was on the bottom of the basement steps when it hit but survived. For years I could not stand the smell of mud....I figured out it was because that was all you could smell was mud..mud and more mud. I remember after we crawled out of the basement, we had to walk down the middle of the road because of all the debrie and live wires down. Charles City and its residents survived the '68 F5 tornado and I know that Charles City and its residents will survive the .08 flood.

God Bless you all.
Leesa

Leesa Stanbro Siems said...

I was 10 the day the tornado hit Charles City. I will never forget that day nor will I ever fell safe when a storm brews up. Our house was located on Grand and 15th. We had an older two story home until the tornado hit. The tornado shitfted our house off its foundation, turned it, took one half and then left it. My mom and us five kids were in the S.W corner of the basement, had we been in the N.E, we would not have been so lucky, that is where alot of the wreakage come in. My dad, made it to the bottom of the steps but with the force of the wind, he could not move. We were very blessed that day that we all survived monster. My Dad drove a Comet back and forth to work and after the tornado, he found 3 different colored wigs in his car. And talk about never getting away from your bills, one of mom and dad's gas bills was found in the front yard of a reporter in Chatfield, MN about 80 miles form Charles City. The reporter got in touch with mom and dad and asked if she could come down and do a story on us, which she did, the story was on the front page of her hometown paper along with a picture of our house, oh and by the way, she also did returned the bill!!! I also remember, my grandma T and three uncles from Il, came as soon as they heard about the tornado but were stopped just outside of the city limits by the National Guard, they had supplies with them such as blanekts, sheets, food ect. that would eventually let them in plus my mom had to go to them and let the N.G know they were who they said they were. It was gut wrenching for them not knowing if we were alive, missing or among the dead. I dont remember much of what Charles City looked like after the tornado except walking down the middle fo the road afterwards and needing to watch for live wires and hearing people crying and seeing our neighbor being carried out of her house on a door made as a strecher. As I was growing up, the smell of mud use to be one of the worst smells for me, I could not figure it out until I was talking with my mom and it dawned on me that smell was the smell right after the tornado...isnt it funny how things stick in our heads after so many years. When our kids were growing up, I was so afraid I would not be able to protect them from such a storm that I would make myself sick....although I got my house cleaning done (that was how I would try to stay calm and keep the kids from knowing how scared I was...didnt always work). To this day, if the clouds get dark, my eyes are open to the sky and my phone calls start to my adult kids to make sure they are watching. I will admit, I am a basket case when it comes to storms and I am very lucky that my family understands and dont fuss too much about the phone calls.