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Jeremy Kappell
/ Categories: The Super Outbreak

Stories from '74: Brandenburg's Melissa Pipes

Melissa was a third grader in Brandenburg living on top of West Hill at the time the monster tornado arrived. Her traumatic story of survival and loss on April 3, 1974..

fresh, you know? You've had 50 years to get your story together. OK, I'm just saying. Yeah, think about it every spring. All the time. Anytime a cloud rolls in.

Alright, you’re ready right? Melissa, where were you on April 3rd, 1974? How old were you and what do you remember before the tornado? 00:30 We went to school that day. And the weather was. Just off feeling. And my brother and I went to the St. John's school and we took pictures outside that day.  The wind was blowing and the sky looked funny. So 00:52 when we got out of school and while we were car riders, so my mom brought us home and. She said that you all need to stay in today because we always went outside. And 01:05 I don't know what we were doing, but my brother, we had this big picture window and he looked out and said, What's that? What is that Momma?  She said. Oh my God, get to the basement. It's a tornado. And it.. we were dead track.. in the track of it. 01:24 So we had to go down some stairs, out the back door, down some stairs to get in. The basement. We all got down there. I remember when we crouched down that Johnny and I.  But I don't remember the sound. I kind of like blacked out or something but when it was over and it was like. I can't explain the feeling. You couldn’t even tell the neighborhood as the way I knew it. It was destroyed. Except for our neighbors house and someone on the other.. away from the cars. 02:08 I can hear my mom yelling “Missy Johnny” you know. And we looked around and there and I didn't even see my grandmother. She barely made it through the basement door and she got a broken hip and had a stroke. She was 74 years old. And we.. 02:37 there was a Mattress on top of my mom. And she was laying on top of my nephew. He was 22 months old at the time. So we got the mattress off of her and she had a concrete block on her head and her head was bleeding. And I remember my little nephew was crying. She was, you know, we were. It was just a big fusion mess and there were people walking around lost and I remember this lady Kelly Dow asking me. Where her teeth were. Yes, I remember that. Just plain as day.

Let me take you back real quick. We’re going from inside the home where you are taking shelter thoughts outside the home. Everything. So first of all. You all decided to stay inside today because we weren't sure about the weather. Your brother saw it. Did you see the tornado? No How did your brother describe it? I just it was just a huge dark cloud I guess. And. He’d never seen one before I guess. But your mother immediately recognized it.  Ohh. Yeah, What does she have to say about it? She just said, Oh my God, it's a tornado. Get to the basement. And we ran down there. And do you remember when you were outside? Were you afraid? What was going through your head? Oh, yes, yes. 04:15 I just didn't know. I didn't know what, you know, a tornado was then. I'm sorry my mouth is dry. Um. So when it, you know, these crouched down and it came through and there was nothing standing in her home.

Crouched down. Yes. You were in there for about how long? Ohh gosh, it seemed. It's it seemed like forever, but. I don't know. It's. You had some descriptions. I know you said you couldn't. You don't remember hearing? No, don't remember hearing the way it sounded. you had some descriptions in our message. What do you remember when you were taking shelter? What did you remember? When it was over. Not when it was over, you said. When it was occurring. We were crouched down and when you know, like they taught us in school. And that's where I draw a blank. I don't remember things falling down as I remember when it was over it was raining real hard. And we stood up and just kept..

Did you have anything over your head? No, not a thing. This is what I wanna hear. Yeah. Alright, so let's go back. You don't remember a lot when you were taking shelter. But at some point you look up and there is no roof. Yes, no roof. Walk me through that. OK. So 05:45 as soon as it was over, you know.. all you could see was the sky. And Johnny and I had scratches and bruises on us and but I can. I can hear my moms muffled voice hollering our names. And we looked around. And.. she kept yelling for us and we finally found her under that mattress. And there were people walking around. Um, lost. I just, I don't remember my grandmother had a stroke at same time, so I guess she. I don't know what they did with her, but we got my mom, 06:44 Johnny, and I got my mom up. And at that time people were walking around and.. just looking at all the destruction. And Johnny and I were like, standing there just in a daze, didn't know what to do. And I had long blonde hair and I had.. Insulation in it and just.. I can remember it just. And it was it rained. We were wet. We were scared. That Lady asked me, Miss Kelly Dow. Where her teeth were, she was, you know, older. And. You know, I was 8 years old. And I.. And I don't know it just. Somebody come over and got us and took us to a house down the street, I look that way because it's some of the neighborhood was. That they toldc us to stay in the basement till somebody could come and get us. So I don't, I don't remember how long we sat there, but my sister's brother-in-law came and got us. I guess. Everybody wanted to know because it went right over where we lived and everyone was worried. And so they took Johnny and I and Tay. To sisters brother in Law's home. And. We stayed there. Didn't know where my mom.. that where my mom was, but it was like the rest of that day. Um. It was. It was just like walking around in a dark place, you know, and and for me it was. And ohh.

So I want to go back real quick. Describe your mom's injuries and you mentioned your grandma she just  got to the basement? The injuries with your mom and your grandmother specifically?  my mom. She had. Stitches to get stitches in her head. She had a broken ankle. That's when I took her to I took her to Ireland Hospital that was the closest one in. And I guess they took my grandmother also. 09:17 She ended up in a nursing home and never got to come home from from that, so I consider her the 32nd. Person that passed away from from the tornado four years later. I can remember going to the nursing home and her stroke was so bad. She tried to say my name and and it's I was scared because. You know.. That was my Mamaw we were living with it. That now she couldn't talk or. And at 8 years old, she was saying trying to say Missy and it was say me, me, me, me. And she was crying. She would cry and I wouldn't want to go see her because it scared me. And uh. We made trips up there, you know, and. She passed away in 78.

Sorry. So what else do you remember from the immediate aftermath? The condition of the town, your neighbors? Yes, from just. Just that strip of my neighbourhood where it went right over us. You just you couldn't tell what street you were on. Have you seen any pictures of it?  Describe, do your best to describe what was left of your house? Just debris? We lost everything. I mean, they found something with my mom's name on it and over on it in Indiana. It had blown that far away and pictures you know have no pictures left. Um. My dad had passed away prior in 1971, so it was my mom raising Johnny and I with her mom. Yeah  We lived in that nice little that I ever heard that we every day would get out, ride our bikes. You know, around the neighborhood and. It it, it was. I wish it was still there.

Where did you move to? We moved to the trailer out in. Out of the county, but we were in Meade County. That's the only thing that you know. For the available that. We found and you know, I just went along. I remember us going to the. Fairgrounds and getting food and clothing. And 12:01 we found that trailer and we rented that and then. Uh. Ohh. When it stormed, it was awful. Yeah. Ohh very ohh. They had to tell me that tornadoes didn't come at night. Because I would not out of bed without my shoes on or my clothes. I mean it. Really did a number on me. And from this day on, you know, 12:30 I know now they come at night. I'm in the house now with nobody, son. I live alone. And um. I. Days before if they're saying on the news, you know, possible severe weather, you know coming. You know, in a few days or whatever.. I’m uneasy. I'm just. And if I'm out driving in the car and it's storming, I'm I'm looking around, Where would I stop? What would I do if I saw a tornado coming? You know and you know, getting that ditch, I know not to get under a bridge or anything like that, but it's constantly on my mind. I'll stay home. If I have an appointment and they're calling for storms, I'll cancel it. I won't. I won't go out. I wont.

So what are the takeaways for you and your family from April 3rd, 1974?  13:35 My childhood. My grandmother. Just everything. That couldn’t be replaced, like the pictures.. of family and just.. everything I had. You mean to me, you know.  Just everything. You know.. I didn’t think like an adult, you know that stuff can be replaced and everything. Thank God we were. 14:19 By the grace of God we we made it.

What memories do you hold of your grandma? 14:31 Very special. Yeah. She. I slept with her when I was little. She'd say the prayer prayers with me at night. Whatever you remember when you're 8 years old from your grandmother, I mean. She was so sweet and caring.  And. And to see her laying In the nursing home like that and not understanding. You know. You know being eight, turning nine years old. Why didn't it go over? Somewhere where there wasnt the neighborhood, you know.  Yeah. When When? When it was over. And I had that everything cleared up. We didn't rebuild back there. You know, because my grandmother was in a nursing home and we didn't have the funds to rebuild in that neighborhood.

It changed your chil.. it changed the trajectory of your childhood and your family. Yes. And. Even, you know, when we finally went back to school? And uh. There would be a storm come up. My mom would come and get Johnny and I because. We wouldn’t. We couldn't stay at school. We just wanted to be wherever she was. So she come and get us from school early if it was storming that day. Yeah. And. At night, even if it was a little Thunder shower or whatever. Yeah. How do I want to say? 16:41 It's just the scared feeling of not.. of thinking a tornadoes gonna come again. This. It's It's still vivid. And. I just never wanna go through another one. And when I when. Down in Maysfield. Uh. I cried for those people. Sure you did It's just so devastating. And then I see. People out tornado chasing them when I'm thinking don't you know what the. For the good, but are you a tornado chaser? Right, let me see your certificate Sir, Why would you wanna do that? I know of far better ways of finding out about..

Looking back at your community. What do you remember about them coming together afterwards? Not so much. We moved and it was so far out of town. And we didn't go back to school for a little bit. After that. That we would go back to the house, right, You know, afterwards and just. Just look at it and. Be Amazed, I mean. How we lived through it.

Any final thoughts? 18:28 I'm here by the grace of God. Thank you, Melissa. I really appreciate this. Thank you. Thank you for doing that documentary. You’re welcome. It was my pleasure. Excellent. Thank you so much. I know. You got me going too.  When we talk about my Grandmother. Yeah. Yeah. She was very special and I lost my dad when I was five years old. So. He had cancer. So sorry. And my mom raised five Kids. I’m the baby. I’m going to have you run that right down your shirt. Tom..  


Jeremy Kappell

Meteorologist, Journalist, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster

Previous Article Stories from '74: Brandenburg's Tom Bridge
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