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Jeremy Kappell
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Stories from '74: Brandenburg's Sally Evans

Sally Evans was a first grader in Brandenburg on April 3, 1974 who lost her grandmother in the storm and her uncle nearly died from his injuries.  She describes the moment her life changed forever and what they did to survive the F5 monster..

Sally Evans, thank you for joining us today. I'm gonna take you back to April third. You probably don't have a lot of memories before the tornado because you were young. Describe. Your situation on April 3rd, 1974? well, back then I was Sally Beth Allen. Evans is my married name. I was a first grader at Central Elementary and I lived, behind the high school, in a subdivision.. I lived on Park Lane. And I guess the way birds fly, we would have been right behind the path of destruction or beside it. 00:53 I got off the school bus and walked up to the neighbors house. My mom was there and they were kind of chatting about the weather that day. And my next door neighbor said if it gets bad, come over. We didn't have a basement. They did. So we went home. 01:17 My mom turned on Presto the clown. That was the show of choice, I guess for me. And I had a brother that was a year and a half old. And Mom had never gone back to work after he was born. And probably about, I don't know, maybe 10 or 15 minutes later. My mom ran in the room where I was and grabbed me by the arm and had my brother and the other arm and ran over to the next door neighbors house. And I remember being outside and I remember looking back and seeing black. Um. And then we made it to the neighbors house. We went into their basement and like most people say, a few seconds later it was over.

I’m going to have you slow that down by the time that you? So was your mom said it's getting bad outside. Did you get a chance to look at it?  No. It was pretty much. Let's go. I mean, it wasn't there was no, you know, there was no time to say this is what's gonna happen. It was I I remember where I was and I remember her grabbing me. And actually 02:34 once we got outside. I always went to the back door of the neighbors house when I would go see him and. My mother has said has told me since that they told her if anything happened to come to the front. And so she went to the front and I jerked away to go to the back. And I know she said that was the most scared she thinks she'd ever been in her life because at that time you could see it. I mean, you could.. and it was.. I don’t know how many feet? It was definitely less than a mile because that was probably about the time that it hit the radio station.

What to you remember seeing? 03:13 It was just black. I mean, even as a little kid I remember it was just black. I've had people asking I could see light on either side and and I don't remember that. Of course, looking back, based on how large they said it was probably and based on where I was, I probably couldn't see anything but black. But umm, but yeah, I do remember how black it was?  So you sought Shelter?  You said you were kind of on the edge of the damage path or? we were probably, I mean, as far as city blocks, maybe, I would say maybe a block or block and a half away from the street, the Main Street of town that it went through. So not not too far. We had windows blown out. There were no houses in our neighborhood that were lost, but we were. We were pretty close.

 So what do you remember following the passage of the tornado? And you remember seeing all the destruction? Ohh yeah, I mean it. I think I told you it as a six year old is probably the 1st.. I guess events that I really remember chronologically in my life. You know, I remember the first day of kindergarten or things like that, but I remember pretty good details from that time. 04:38 My great grandmother was killed in the storm. She was with my uncle at the time, my great uncle at the time, and. Their house was on Green Street, which most people refer to as the hardest hit area, I think. It was definitely the largest loss of life. I've heard people say 1/3 of the last lost or a half, but there were there were several right there on that small street and she was one of them. My great uncle like Craycroft survived. He was injured. He was injured probably a lot more severely than what we accounted for.. anybody accounted for. He was treated that night but he wasn't taken to hospital.

Can you describe what happened to him? Well, he so. 05:35He and my great grandmother had gotten to their house a few minutes before it hit. And he had been able to get her inside. She was almost blind and elderly, so she wasn't real mobile herself. But he had been able to get her inside the house and had gone back out to get groceries, to bring them in and realized that something was going on. So he dropped those and went to get her. And they had a house. Probably built in the 1920s Craftsman type house that had a basement. And. He was below her on the steps, two or three steps below her, helping her down the steps. And he said when the tornado hit he the last thing he saw of her was something separated the steps between them. And um. From that point on, he remembered very briefly being in the air. He.. When he came to, he was about four or five houses down. Where his house was. Um, and he. He wasn't the only person on that street that survived, but he was probably the closest one maybe that did survive. There were several others that were in basements and different things, but I don't know that any.

Can you describe his injuries?  07:07 He had a really bad hit to the back of his head. Later on, years later, they said it probably did a lot of damage to his optic nerve. He ended up being blind for probably the last 20 years of his life. Um. He. He lost a lot of blood.  I mean, they got to our house about probably 30 minutes after the storm and. Not that I knew it at the time is a six year old, but from what I do remember seeing him at the time, he was definitely in shock. Um, he walked all the way from his house down to where my aunt was. She was worked at RECC, which was also destroyed, and he walked down there and check on her with no shoes on. And then they both walked our house with no shoes on. So, or he didn't. She did. She had shoes. But but yeah, he was in shock. But I think honestly, and I can say this, this a six year old, probably most of the adults in our town. At that time, even if they weren't as injured as he was, they most of them were in some sort of shock. I would say just, you know, for what they saw and what they had to do. I mean, you know.

You mentioned your aunt.  She's got a story from that day too, doesn't she? She was, she worked, she was an accountant bookkeeper that worked at RECC and I don't know the exact number. I would say probably 30 women were there. Um. And there had been a tornado a couple of days before that did a lot of wind damage and I think it may have destroyed some structures, but I think it was mostly wind damage on April 1st. And they had a crew that was down in Breckenridge County. They were repairing some lines down there that had been destroyed that day and of course, no cell phones since it’s 1974. But they had radios and they radioed back to the men at RECC and said get everybody into the basement, go on. And we think it's heading your way. And so they they had a little bit of a warning which looking back had they not. They probably would have passed away because that area was destroyed. My mom, up until the time my brother was born, a year or so before that, she worked at a beauty shop across the street from there and that shop was destroyed and and both of the women there were killed. So you know it it probably wouldn't have been a good situation, but but they all survived. They they made it to the basement. And of course came out and everything was gone.

You know it's got to be particularly difficult for six year old to comprehend what happen. And I'm sure it's taking you a lot of time to wrap your mind around what actually happened? How did you, how did you do? When it got stormy after that? I think it immediately after that, probably the the saving grace, if there was one for the kids in this community was that none of the schools were destroyed. So we got to go back to school fairly quickly considering I guess. Um. So that that was good. Um, and we probably had a different childhood in this town than than a lot of kids did. Because you know, we even as kids we saw what happened and we definitely had parents and grandparents that that knew what happened. So we had a lot of tornado drills and even. Umm, as an adult, I guess the next really bad tornado that I that I was part of was in 1996 when it hit Bullitt County. And. And I had actually taken my uncle that survived the tornado, had taken them to the doctor that day, and I had been here. I lived in Louisville, but I brought them back home to Brandenburg and had it back up there and missed that storm by about 15 minutes. But seeing the destruction of that storm brought back a lot of memories for me. So yeah, I'm sure, 11:56 I'm sure there's a lot of. Kids, course, we're all in our 50s now from that time period that like myself, we probably have some PTSD if you know what we went through.

Do you still get nervous when there’s a tornado warning? Ohh yeah yeah and you feel. You know, 12:11 you feel.. a special I guess connection not maybe not a good way to to the communities that go through it because you knew why yours went through. You know I almost any bad storm that hits like that where there's a lot of destruction and and they go in and they do the interviews afterwards. It seems like I always find you know, the children and the, you know, there's always a a child standing there and you know, you think about, you know what it was like to be that little kid.

So looking back. And you being so connected with this community. What are your takeaways? From April 3rd, 1974? I mean it. 13:06 It shaped this community. It probably, I mean. 50 years from now, there will probably still be some things around here after we're all gone, but we'll be here or not be here because of what happened that day. I think in a lot of ways we're a closer community because of it, because there's there's still a lot of families here in the community that that did lose someone or lost a house or had their life changed. So, you know, I went to college when I graduated high school and and lived in Louisville for several years. I've moved back permanently about five years ago. Not lived in too many places, but there is, there is a different sense of community here and that's that's probably not the only reason but I think it's one of them.

Any final thoughts? I don't know. You know I wanted I'm. I'm grateful that you're doing this. You know I'm 56. My and uncle were in their 50s when this happened and you know, this is probably 14:20 You hate to call it an anniversary, because sometimes it's an anniversary none of us wanna think about, but it's probably the last one that a lot of us that were there, especially those that were there as adults, you know, it's I think it is important to get the story out. Yeah, absolutely.  That's what we aim to do and you definitely help with that today. So thank you Sally. Thanks. I appreciate it. ..I'm gonna take 30 seconds

 

Jeremy Kappell

Meteorologist, Journalist, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster

 

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