Remembering the April 3, 1974 tornado

Madison area residents
recall day of horror

By James Ferguson

(April 2004) – In the afternoon of April 3, 1974, I was upstairs in our house on Clemmons Street preparing for my Milton class, which met the next day. As I was reading the sonorous lines of “Paradise Lost,” I gradually became aware of a peculiar sound – like the noise of a locomotive.

James Ferguson

James Ferguson

Curious but not especially alarmed, I went downstairs and noticed that my wife Lori was gazing out our west window.
“What’s that?” she said. We were looking at an enormously large and dark funnel cloud that was moving toward us with great speed. There could be no doubt what it was.
“That’s a tornado,” I said. “Where’s Kathy?”
“In the bathroom.” Kathy was our 13-year-old elder daughter.
“Kathy,” I called, “we’ve got to get into the basement.” Within a matter of seconds we had opened and closed the door to the basement and gone downstairs. Almost immediately there was a thunderous roar over our heads and the sound of breaking glass. We crouched at the bottom of the stairs, waiting.
It didn’t take long for the tornado to pass over – perhaps a minute. But we didn’t emerge from the basement for some time. We were greeted by a scene of devastation. The windows were gone, and there was glass all over the floor. We were to discover later, however, that, aside from the loss of our breezeway and some damage to our roof, the house had not been badly damaged, in marked contrast to the homes of many of our friends and colleagues.
I went outside almost immediately because I had one consuming thought – to get to our younger daughter Lynne, who was at a meeting of the Girl Scouts at the Presbyterian Church. Frantically (and foolishly) I got in our car, which was still serviceable, and tried to back out of our driveway, but I could get nowhere because there were fallen branches everywhere. So I walked up to the church, in my anxiety not even noticing that Finnegan’s had lost a story! I located Lynne in the basement of the church, and we walked home.
In the hours that followed, we looked for our friends (all of whom were safe), and assessed the terrible damage to the campus. After 30 years, however, much of the rest of that day is a blur. But I do remember all four of us – Lori, Kathy, Lynne, and I – trying to sleep in the master bedroom that night as we listened to the sound of water coming through the light fixture in the ceiling.
My memories of the next few days are quite selective. I remember a faculty meeting called by Dr. John Horner. I remember the helicopters overhead. I remember walking guard duty at night with my friend Jim Fairleigh. I remember our family’s spending a night at the Madison State Hospital and watching Hank Aaron hit number 715 on TV. I remember our bliss when, after several days, we heard a gurgle from somewhere in our house and knew that we once more had water.
But most of all, I remember the people of the college during those days – how brave and gallant and cheerful they were. I remember the calm and imperturbable leadership of Dr. Horner. I remember the optimism, the affirmation, the good will, the spirit of camaraderie.
Never have I been prouder to be a member of the Hanover community. Surely those were the greatest days in the history of our college.
– James L. Ferguson, Retired Hanover College professor, Hanover, Ind.

Lee Ann Anderson

Lee Ann Anderson

I remember the tornado like it was yesterday, I was at my babysitters right at the top of Hanging Rock Hill in a small trailer. We were in the bedroom hunched down in a corner by the bed when a large hailball the size of a softball came through the bedroom window and landed on the bed next to us.
I was scared to death and feel for the family’s who lost loved ones in this tornado. I was showing my 11-year-old daughter the pictures of it, and she said she didn’t ever want to be in an F4 storm. I don’t believe any of us had a choice that day.
– Lee Ann Anderson, Madison, Ind.

That day is forever with me, my brother and sisters. I thought it was just the end of another school day at Southwestern High School, and we were all going to get on the buses. But something wasn’t right. The sky was blue – normal looking, but the air seemed thick. It was TOO quiet. No breeze at all and not a single bird anywhere.
It was going on 20 minutes past 3. Mom, David (teen) and Dad (Leon) were at work. My sisters (Phyllis and Jan), brother (Leon Jr.) and I were all in the living room watching TV. Glenda (our baby sister) was playing with some toys on the floor. Then for some reason she went to peek out the front door. Next thing we knew, she came running back to tell us.

Mae Watson

Mae Watson

“Come look! Trees are flying!”
We told her trees don’t fly and went back to watching TV. When she stomped her foot and screamed for us to come look, we decided to humor her and go look out the front door.
We all stood in the doorway staring in disbelief at the twister – the first one we’d ever seen. And it was coming from the direction of our school, following along the treeline in the field directly across from our house, yanking the trees up, roots and all, each disappearing up into churning black clouds.
Phyllis swooped Glenda into her arms and yelled for us all to get in the basement. But Leon Jr. and I stayed there watching it – mesmerized, I guess.
We continued to watch as another twister coming from the left from the direction of Madison and the Ohio River, dancing along the treeline, too, until it met up with the other one in the middle of the field and formed a huge, black, billowing “thing!”
Angry black-and-green smokey colors swirling together until it jumped up over the treeline headed straight for us. Then we ran for the basement, too, and all huddled together under the pool table listening as the big monster tore through our house.
We had to cover our ears because it sounded like a 747 and a train going full speed at the same time! The sounds of glass breaking... I remember my ears kept popping and the terror we all felt.
Leaving that day forever etched in all of us, except our baby sister because she has no memory of that day. But maybe that is for the best that she doesn’t remember when three to four tornados hit Hanover and Madison, destroying our school, many homes and businesses and some people sadly lost their lives.
April 3, 1974, is a day our family will always remember also as the day our baby sister saw “trees flying” and saved our lives.
– Mae Watson, Hanover, Ind., resident

George Ann Fisher

George Anne Fisher

I was teaching at Anderson Elementary School at the time and was at school.
Thank God most of the children had gone home and the few who were playing basketball in front of the school came inside with us.
Before the tornado got to us, some of us watched it approach from the teachers’ lounge window.
It looked huge, then two side parts would break apart from the center and it looked like one big tornado in the middle with a smaller one on each side.
– George Anne Fisher, Madison, Ind.


What to do when a tornado warning is issued

When a tornado warning has been issued, you may have very little time to prepare. How you respond now is critical. Obey advisories promptly.
In A Frame Home:
• Carefully evaluate the situation before bringing in outdoor items.
• Make sure you have a portable radio for information.
• Seek shelter in the lowest level of your home (basement or storm cellar). If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway, a smaller inner room, or a closet. Keep away from all windows.
• You can cushion yourself with a mattress, but do not use one to cover yourself. Do cover your head and eyes with a blanket or jacket to protect against flying debris and broken glass. Don’t waste time moving mattresses around.
• Keep your pet on a leash or in a carrier.
• Multiple tornadoes can emerge from the same storm.
• Do not go out until officials say it is safe.
In A Mobile Home:
• Leave your mobile home immediately and take shelter elsewhere.
• Try to get inside and seek out a small protected space with no windows.
• Avoid large-span roof areas such as school gymnasiums, arenas, or shopping malls.
• If you cannot get inside, crouch for protection beside a strong structure, or lie flat in a ditch or low-lying area and cover your head and neck with your arms or a piece of clothing.
In A Car:
Ideally, you should avoid driving when tornadoes or other kinds of dangerous weather threaten, as a vehicle is a very unsafe place to be. If, however, this is not possible, stay as calm as possible, and assess the situation.
• Your best option might be to get out of the car and lie flat in a ditch or other low-lying area that is of sufficient depth to provide protection from the wind.
• If you do so, beware of water runoff from heavy rain that could pose a hazard, get as far away from the vehicle as possible, and shield your head from flying debris.
• Or, more optimally, if possible take shelter immediately in a nearby building.
• Do not leave a building to attempt to “escape” a tornado.
• If you are already in a sturdy building, do not get in a vehicle to try to outrun a tornado.

Source: The Weather Channel


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