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Jeremy Kappell
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Stories from '74: Brandenburg's Amanda Brown

Amanda Brown was working at her clothing shop on Main Street in downtown Brandenburg when the colossal storm hit. What she remembers from the harrowing moments and how she was reunited with her family.

Alright, let's go back again to the morning of April 3rd. And this will be a two-part question. OK so. What was it like in Brandenburg back in 1974? And then did you know anything was gonna happen about the weather that day? I didn't know anything was gonna happen about the weather. I owned a clothing store downtown. It was called the cedar chest. And I went to work at 10:00. Had the babysitter there in the house, Mary Clark, took care of our boys, Anthony and Kyle. And it was warm for that time of year, extra warm. So this store got hot work so I have the door propped to open to let some air in. And it got warmer as the day went through. But we, you know just a regular business day for us and next door was a clothing store and Shirley miles on that and we were friends and customers came in and out and then 01:02 it got warmer as the day went on. And then? Sometime in the afternoon, 3:30 or maybe be a little bit later than that. We knew a storm was coming. 01:12

Then Tony called and said you need to take shelter. There's a tornado coming. Well, I didn't even know what a tornado was going to be. And I remember the wind picked up, so I tried to shut the door to the shop to keep the wind from blowing in. And the wind was so strong. I couldn't shut the door. And remember, right before all that, it got so quiet outside. There wasn't a bird chirping. There was nothing in. There was a green shade of everything outside. So trying to shut the door. I came back inside and I was trying to find the people in the next shop because we had a door that opened between us and couldn't find anybody. So Shirley had a little bathroom there with the toilet and sink. So I got in that bathroom and hid behind the toilet. And said Hail Mary's because this storm hit then and the sound and breaking glass and the wind and everything and you didn't know what was going on. It was the most frightening thing in the world. So then it got quiet. And then we came out and we looked outside. You couldn't even tell where you were. You couldn't tell it didn't look like anything that was there 3 minutes ago.

Yeah. So I feel like you ran through that real fast, so I'm gonna ask a couple specific questions. And maybe it triggers memories. You mentioned it felt very warm. How would you describe the feeling prior to the storm arriving? How did how would you describe what it felt like it looked like outside? very humid. Very hot for that time of year and like I said, I had the door open and then just prior to that. 02:57 There was no sound out. There was no birds. There was nothing outside. It was very eerily quiet out there.

You mentioned you got a phone call from your husband. That there was a tornado coming. How much time did you have? Soon as I hung up the phone from Tony, I called our house when we lived in the little subdivision called Happy Ridge Rd. and our sons room there with the babysitter. So I called her to tell her to get the boys. Safe. And nobody answered the phone, so I didn't know if the tornado had already hit them. And then it was coming back over for us. I had no one. Like I said, I had no idea what a tornado was going to be. So I couldn't get Mary on the phone. So that's when I tried to shut the door. And then we just had to wait it out until it was quiet. And then you looked outside and it was just. You didn't know what to do or what to think. We were all in shock. 

And so you had ever experienced the tornado before and you didn't know what what to expect?   Exactly. So the tornado hit and can you describe again when you after you? You take, you took shelter. Can you describe again what you felt, what you heard, maybe what you smelt? I don't remember a smell. 04:21 I remember the sound. It was just like they say, the train. You hear that roaring. And then I could hear the glass and I could. I thought I could hear things turn it over in the shops, but I could hear the glass and then the wind was just horrendous. I don't remember a smell. And you said after it was all over. How much time do you think had elapsed when it was going on?  No, I have no idea. Didn't seem like it lasted that long. I mean, I have no idea, right? I can't remember how long I thought it was was lasting, but seemed like forever for a while and then it it wasn't.

Right and then it passed, tell me in detail what you saw when you got out. Well, the Moose Lodge was across the road and then the old bank where there was a store over there. The color was still kind of eerie looking with the color, but. You know there there was stuff all over the debris and stuff all over the road my vehicle was parked in front of, 05:24 there was bricks and stuff all over the the vehicles out there and the whole front of our shops was destroyed. There was a lot of debris up and down the streets and I remember after I looked outside and then I was mainly trying to get a hold with the people in the shop next door because Shirley was there with her son and sister was there and they had all hid behind. She had a counter in there for her store and they hid behind that. Our store was actually. We were very blessed because it was built on the side of the hill going downtown. So the back of our shops was up against that dirt and so the top of the building was the old hotel. It was torn up, but ours.. the back of it. That's probably what saved us because we were back up against that and it went over the top of it.  

Right. A lot of those downtown buildings were not as fortunate. Exactly. Exactly. We're very blessed for that part. Yeah. None of us were hurt. So tell me what you remember that day as the day progressed. And you got to see the extent of the damage to Brandenburg. And then what did you do to reconnect with your family and were they OK? When it was over and we realized that all of us that were together, we were OK. We just kind of look outside and. We didn't. I had no idea where the kids were, Didn't know where Tony was. He just said, you know, that there was something coming. So we went outside and. I don't know how long it took, but Tony, somehow he got down there. He wasn't hurt, but he got down there. And he said he had kind of seen that look like that part of the town where the boys were, it looked OK. But it wasn't too long after that. Then I started walking to go to the house, check on the boys, and I got to the top of the hill and I saw a lady that I knew and I told her I was trying to get over there and she was actually.. there wasnt the debris at the top of the hill. It was just down our way. So she took me to the house and thank God, Mary. Our babysitter, she had taken the boys to the basement under the steps and she said I heard the phone ringing but I wouldn't go back upstairs to answer.. because then we all had the wall phones. We didn't have these these cell phones to carry around so she had the boys safe and 07:45

I'd seen Tony, he had come down to check on me so I left him there and then I went to check on the boys and they were OK. So that was. And then I didn't realize how blessed we were until then. I heard. Then we saw and realized the extent of everybody else loss. Yeah.  That night. We. After Tony stayed down there for a good while, helping as much as he could, and I stayed there with the boys. And then that night when it got dark and you couldn't do anything else, I remember we took the boys and we slept in the basement on the floor because we didn't know if there was another storm coming. So we all slept on the floor and helicopters.. or you could hear the helicopters all night trying to come in and do what they could to help.

Right? What did it feel like when you realize your boys are safe? Unbelievable relief. And thankfulness and that that they were safe. 08:43 I didn't realize how precious that was. And we've realized that as the years go on.. that how fast something can happen to you. To think that they were safe and they were OK. And then then when you see or hear how many people lost their lives and there was little ones that lost their lives, families that were wiped out. It's just heart wrenching. There was a lot of people we went to church with and had grown up and community. We were a small community and we’itre tight knit.  And when it hit. Everybody was affected by it. That's kind of what we say well that happened before the tornado, or that happened after the tornado. I remember downstairs that was there before the tornado. Remember this was before the tornado and. Like you said earlier, you could see lots of things for years. Metal wrapped around trees. Debris off in the woods that reminded you what had happened then.

Looking back, what are your? Your thoughts on that day as it pertains to your life?  Well, it changed our life as far as. When storms came. I have. My kids are terrified for storms because I've pretty much made them that way. Especially Anthony and Kyle when they were growing up and then when Megan and then. When we moved from Happy Ridge Trail, we moved to another house out in out in the country kind of, and we didn't have a basement. So when the storms came, they spent time in the bathtub with mattresses and pillows and if the friends were visiting. They got thrown in the hall and I drag stuff out and thrown on top of them and I remember anything. Had a a girlfriend there one time and I threw her in the hall and and after was over with they said this is just the way she is. So was terrified of what because I thought we don't have anything to protect them with so. They're little leery of it and they're more aware and I think they're respectful of the weather. They have to live in a don't wanna make them too scared, but I want them to be aware of what's going on. 

Did you make them wear the football helmet?  Oh I probably did sometimes. That they had. I would pull everything out and put them on the floor and just cover them up with it then. Yeah. You gotta do what you gotta do. We did what you gotta do to take care of our kids. So that's what we did, Yeah. Remember. We were blessed that we were all safe though, and then our community has come back. 11:17 There's a lot of memories and we don't ever forget this and we appreciate you doing this because it's, there’s so many families that were affected it. Yeah. and so many memories of of heroic things that people did to save other people, to help them. I remember them bringing them up the hill and they took him to the clinic, which was just up the hill from us, and they just, you know, had a makeshift triage out there taking care of people until they could get them out. Never forget that with all those trying to do everything, everybody's chipped in to do what they could to help. Next Sunday was Easter Sunday. They kids had to have some kind of normalcy and I remember some of the churches and things, they made-up these baskets and took them to the fairgrounds and people came out there with their kids. So the kids had some kind of something to hold on to. Yeah. Which was that that's just kind of the way our community is and that's the way it always has been, but the kids had to be taken care of.

That’s great. Looking back. Um. Any final thoughts on what occurred that day your life before after. And do you think the community's prepared for another disaster like that if it were to occur today? There's a lot of safety measures that have been taken in the sirens and the warnings, and everybody's aware of that. Well, I think it it just made me more aware of things that can happen so quickly. And how precious everybody as in our neighbors and that that's what we do. We help each other.  And that job, that store wasn't as important. I need to be home with the boys. Yeah. So we we were closed for several months and then I reopened it, but I sold it within a year. I needed to be home, it wasn't. That was, times were too precious to be gone with the little ones in. So Yeah. Blessed though.

Anything else you'd like to add? Well, I think that'll be it. I appreciate it. And. You bring this back up and you can remember a lot of stuff that you had kind of forgotten or didn't think about for a long time. So maybe I needed to do that. Maybe you did. You did. Alright. Thank you Amanda. Appreciate it. Great job btw. OK.

 

Jeremy Kappell

Meteorologist, Journalist, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster

 

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