June 8, 2013

Remembering June 8, 1966

I was five years old when Topeka, Kansas was destroyed by an F5 tornado.

What started as a white funnel southwest of Topeka moved and darkened as debris was collected in the whirlwind. I was in north Topeka, in my aunt's arms as we huddled in her basement. I remember her tears dropping on my arms as I remained still, confused and scared.

My mother was in downtown Topeka, in a shelter. She, too, cried during those horrible moments. My father was at Washburn University, in a shelter underground. Washburn University was almost entirely destroyed. Our family was separated that day simply because Mom had to work late and Dad had a class.

When we were reunited many hours later, thanks to the National Guard, my parents fell to their knees in gratitude to find one another and hugged my brother and I so close to their chests that I can still feel their hearts pounding in relief.

It took days to get back to our house in central Topeka. It had imploded. The capitol building had been hit. Downtown Topeka was destroyed and sparking power lines were everywhere. My school, Central Park Elementary, where I had just finished kindergarten, had been lifted straight up by the tornado and dropped in shards that covered miles. It had been a four-storey building built of solid brick. I went through grade school in "temporary" trailers and other schools around Topeka. Central Park Elementary was never rebuilt.

The June 8, 1966 tornado that destroyed Topeka started in the southwest and ended at Billard Airport in north Topeka. It took thirty minutes.

Forty-two years later, there are still remnants of that day in Topeka. We Topekans kept a few monuments of that day. Some things we did not rebuild. Most things we did.

Topeka closed that day to outsiders. Identification was required to get to our homes. Sixteen people died, over 500 were injured.

Despite the massive damage, it was a time of tears, fear, loss, humor, relief, sadness and fellowship as we started, almost immediately, the intense clean-up that never really finished.

I was five years old when my aunt held me during those thirty minutes that would change my life and the lives of everyone in Topeka that day. By the end of that remarkable summer, I felt a lot older. Most Topekans felt aged and battered.

But we recovered, slowly slowly slowly. The sixteen lost lives were grieved; the miracles of lives that were not lost were rejoiced.

I guess we all grew up that long hot summer.

And I know we survived.


Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket
Photobucket




Photobucket
All photos © Copyright 2003 Morris Digital Works and The Topeka Capital-Journal.


PhotobucketClick the photo at the
left for footage of the
tornado.

Note that at 1:00,
the tornado begins
as a white funnel
and darkens as it
moves.





Here are some links for more information about the June 8, 1966 tornado that hit Topeka, Kansas:
 
AMS Journals Online
(American Meteorological Society)

BNet: Find Articles


NOAA  (National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration, also called the National Weather Service)

Personal Stories Of The June 8, 1966 Tornado


Tiny Vital


Wikipedia