On April 10, 1979...now known as TERRIBLE TUESDAY. Eric W's grandmother dropped us off about noon to Sikes Center Mall to see the new Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. When she picked us up she told us there was really bad weather coming our way. Boy, was it ever. Just the thought of a tornado had always fascinated but terrified me more. I got home and watched the constant weather updates on KAUZ TV Channel 6. Lynn Walker, Kay Shannon and Rich Segal were anchors looking very nervous as it became more and more evident that this thing was huge (a mile and a half wide at some points) and headed straight toward the city.
At about 6:03 pm the power went off. My Dad was standing in the bed of his 1978 Silverado pickup trying to see the tornado. I walked out onto the front porch and noticed the sky was turning orange in the direction the storm was coming. My dad yelled very sternly to get back into the house. The tone in his voice was enough to scare the crap out of me because it was seldom I ever heard fear and panic in my dad's voice, if ever up until that day. We sandwiched into the hall closet as the roar became louder. One of us yelled for TJ our doberman. If I remember correctly, during all the panic, she ran out into the backyard barking and there was no time to chase after her. As the house shook I was just waiting to be hurled out onto the ground outside. All I remember hearing was the roar of the wind and all four of our voices saying, "Oh God!" After approximately three minutes we opened the door. Our house was nearly unrecognizable. Broken glass from every window and door with mud and debris covering everything we owned. Once outside the destruction was unbelievable. Uprooted trees, cars turned in every direction and upside down. The further down our street you walked the more houses were destroyed leaving only the inner walls or less. Many houses were completely flattened. My dad ran up to the main intersection two blocks from our house to see if any help was needed. Some people were trapped in their vehicles. He and another guy picked up a car using a piece of wood as leverage. Under the car they found a woman shaking from shock and the sight of her husband dead beside her.
There was an unrecognizable odor in the air and a dusty haze over everything. As we stumbled through debris the hardest rain I had ever seen came down. Huge drops with no wind for about two minutes. Then the sun came out for just a few minutes revealing the destruction and then leaving the city pitch black. The sound of military rescue helicopters circled all through the night as well as the sound of different relatives calling out in fear that we might not all be ok. You could hear them calling our names blocks before reaching our house. The voices seemed to echo and became more frantic as they got closer and saw all the damage. Then the sighs of releif as they were told we were all fine.
The amount of relief and help from the Red Cross, various volunteer groups, and the government was incredible. For about a month or so trucks with catered food drove down our street 3 times a day to make sure we had food. The government provided thousands of temporary trailer homes for the homeless. They would either deliver it to your destroyed home if you planned to rebuild or it was parked in Kawanis Park, two blocks from our house. It was surreal to see all of the white trailers, cloned as far as you could see, in perfect alignment. Then after a few months the trailer park started shrinking. They had a hell of a time getting some of those trailers returned. The temp trailer park became an annoyance and a nuisance to the city. Seems like they eventually had to come and run the remaining dwellers out of Kawanis Park and seize the trailers .
Since the tornado had wiped out our junior high school we would endure one more year at Jefferson Elementary (pic at left). As 6th graders we would have normally started attending McNiel Jr High. The 7th and 8th graders had to be moved to nearby Rider High School.
One of my best friends in the sixth grade, Stephanie T, lived around the corner from us so we usually went to school together. Stephanie was adopted by her Aunt Bo. She was a bit different than the other girls. I liked her. She wore really nice clothes and was knowledgeable in fashion. She wore LuvIt jeans with all the designs on the pockets and cuffed them at the ankle. My favorite pair had gold records on the pocket and "DISCO" inscribed on them as well. Stephanie was also really funny. We would spend hours in class breaking rules - eating candy, laughing at things our teacher or other students would do or say. It seems like Steph and I laughed through an entire year of classes. We did get caught at least once eating candy which resulted in the two of us having to stay after school and write I WILL NOT EAT IN CLASS a few hundred times each before we were allowed to leave school that day. We often hung out evenings in my room playing records or roller skated around the neighborhood. Music was always the biggest part of our entertainment. At the end of my sixth grade year I threw a party in my parents backyard. My dad hung colored lights from the top of the trees. Some of the kids paired off and were kissing in the dark corners of the yard. I played 45 rpm singles all night, well until midnight at least. I remember playing Shalamar's Second Time Around and Full Of Fire, Gary Numan's Cars and Anita Ward's Ring My Bell.