"Death Out Of Darkness" is a public safety documentary about the deadly tornadoes of the 11-April-1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak, which affected portions of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The film primarily focuses on the devastation across Northern and Central Indiana. Produced in 1966 by the Indiana State Police and WISH-TV in Indianapolis, narrated by Lt. Dave Levendoski. Video from visualarchivist on YouTube. There were 47 tornadoes in less than 12 hours. This was the 3rd deadliest tornado swarm in U.S. history. See Also: Ted Fujita

Stories

Below are personal recounts of the event. They have been submitted to us by our readers. If you would like to submit your story or photos please click the link in the upper right side of this blog.

We Traveled Between the Two Tornadoes






Submitted by Vyv Dunlap

I was 11 years old. My family (my parents, my younger sister and myself) had been visiting family for the weekend near Muncie. I remember that it had been a warm, sunny and very humid day for April.
Our trip home was uneventful until we were almost to Goshen. The skies to the west were very dark and it had begun to rain.

At one point while still downtown in Goshen we had to pull over because it was raining so hard. (no FM radio so the static on our AM radio made it impossible for my father to understand the reports.) We continued and all the while, I had my eyes glued to the sky. I had been studying basic weather in my 5th grade science class at school and was fascinated with Meteorology. The different cloud formations were fresh in my mind and these were not the nice ones.

Detail of Paul Huffman's infamous photo
As we were leaving Goshen the rains suddenly stopped. Something about the look of the sky caught my father's eye. So we pulled over once again so he could get out to see better. I got out too. I remember seeing a swirling mass of clouds slowly silently moving across the sky right over our heads. (Today I would describe it as looking like a satellite view of a black hurricane.) No funnel cloud...this was right above us. We got us back in the car and continued down US 33 heading toward Elkhart. It was late in the afternoon maybe even getting near dusk but straight ahead the sky seemed bright against the dark clouds overhead. With my eyes still glued to the windows and focused on the sky, off to the left, I noticed what looked like a bunch of wispy clouds extending down from the edge of the retreating cloud mass. Now my eyes were fixed on it. I kept watching it and as the wisps increased and seemed to be moving on their own I pointed to it and from the back seat said to my dad..."that looks like tiny tornadoes". Just as my dad turned to see what I was referring to, the wisps touched the ground and the whole thing transformed into a skinny tornado. But it grew so fast and seemed to be moving right toward us! Immediately my father slammed on the brakes and pulled off the road to the right along US 33 just before the old Gladiolus farm.

The next events all come together in my mind. It all happened so fast. As we are sitting there along the road, I could see the flash of transformers when the tornado crossed over the tracks although, I didn't see when it split into the twins. It just looked horrible and large, so much larger than the pictures of tornadoes in our science books. I will never forget seeing a small car pass us super fast heading right toward the storm when it was just forming! I remember thinking…Where were they going? How could they not see what was happening? And later thinking…Did they get caught in it? Were they okay?

We were only off the road for what seemed like a second before my father and other people that had pulled off all seemed to turn cutting right across the road all at the same time driving right up to a house on the other side. I could hear my mother frantically telling my sister and me to get down on the floor of the backseat but dad was saying we need to get out of the car. I was terrified. I could feel the wind right at first because it shook our car, but I don't remember hearing anything...it seemed so surreal. From the floor of the back seat, I remember looking up toward the sky and seeing "stuff" (debris) floating up into the sky as high as I could see. We were about to get out of the car to run to the house when I think he said...no, it's okay, it’s going the other way.

Photo Source NOAA Archives
When things sort of calmed down we continued very slowly down the road. Nothing looked out of order until we were nearing Midway Trailer Park. It looked like a junk yard. My mother commented with those words.” I don't remember a junk yard along here." Suddenly realizing what we were looking at and instantly shocked my dad, who never cussed in front of us said OMG...it's the trailer park! The traffic was stopping because people were running, dazed and wandering, even crawling out into the road. It was too much for our young eyes and my mother, in shock herself, was now yelling at us "get down...don't look!" Someone came to our station wagon and asked my dad to please help. He got out...was gone for what seemed like forever, came back as white as a sheet and said we might have to help transport injured people. They had to turn off gas and electric before they could remove some of the injured. I was listening to all of this while I watched the terrible scene around us (even though my mother had said to say down). When someone who seemed to be in change came over to our car with my dad the second time he returned they noticed my sister and I and said, no, thank you, you have children, please go on, but there are more storms ahead...be careful.

Click to Enlarge

When we were just past Sunnyside in Dunlap, we ran into more torrential rain and now so much hail it looked like it was snowing! We stopped at a friend of our family's home off Oakland Avenue to get out of the storm, listen to the news and I think for my parents to collect themselves. From there we learned that there had been reports of several and there was another tornado right now on the ground south along CR 26 heading northeast. It was far enough away and moving away from us but, we were still able to see it from the kitchen window! We learned later that another family friend lost his home from this one but was uninjured.
By the time we got home that evening the news was coming in of all of the storms. So many lives lost or presently missing...so much destruction and sadness. So much...

We did not have a basement in our home. So for the next several years whenever the sirens were heard or the firetrucks came down our quiet street with their loud speakers warning us to "take cover" (no matter what time of the day or night) we would run across the street to our neighbors to get into their basement. Our life had been so sheltered and quiet before this, my sister and I were traumatized. Storms sent us into a panic. My parents were calmer but we could sense their panic as well. If we were affected I know others were even more so, especially if they had lost so much more... their home or loved ones!

Dunlap - Palm Sunday Tornado Memorial
We did not have a basement in our home. So for the next several years whenever the sirens were heard or the fire trucks came down our quiet street with their loud speakers warning us to "take cover" (no matter what time of the day or night) we would run across the street to our neighbors to get into their basement. Our life had been so sheltered and quiet before this...my sister and I were traumatized. Storms sent us into a panic. My parents were calmer but we could sense their panic as well. If we were affected I know others were even more so especially if they had lost so much more...their home or loved ones!

I was determined to learn as much as I could about weather after that. I have calmed over the years but when I hear of someone (not referring to the scientists) trying to "outrun" or challenge a bad storm...I think back to how powerful this storm was and I sadly shake my head at what seems to be stupidity.

We were fortunate because we were not caught directly in the path of any of the tornadoes. I thank God for His protection.

As a family, we have looked back and see how close we came to the one at Midway Trailer Park...and after missing that one almost running into in the second in Dunlap. Timing wise: Had we not stopped in Goshen to look at the one passing overhead (which we learned later touched down at St. Rd. 15 & U.S. 20) we might have been more directly involved with the one at Midway. Had we not left Midway when we did...we would have been involved with the one in Dunlap, which was happening less than two miles behind us when we drove through the hail storm. We literally traveled between the two tornadoes. I shutter, even today...thinking about it. It just helps me to remind myself to thank God.....In all things...great or small...wonderful or not.

We will forever be changed and reminded of that horrible day whenever there is a storm or warning issued...or we hear news of a tornado somewhere. Although, I gained a very keen curiosity and limited knowledge of our weather and how it works...I didn't become a Meteorologist but I will always respect the power and capable fury as much as the breathtaking beauty of nature that God created.

3 comments :

  1. Vyv, thank you for posting this. Beautifully written! It seems as though all of us who remember that day so well, are bonded together forever. Loved your words:
    I shutter, even today...thinking about it. It just helps me to remind myself to thank God.....In all things...great or small...wonderful or not.

    We will forever be changed and reminded of that horrible day whenever there is a storm or warning issued...
    God Bless you.
    Debbie Forsythe Watters

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  2. My family and I were coming into Goshen on US 33 from Elkhart and arrived just after the 1st tornado hit Midway trailer park. We lived in Goshen on the north side of the town. I saw and remember the awful devastation of that day. One scene that was burnt into my memory... a middle aged woman with her husband's bleeding head in her lap as she was holding her apron over a large wound. She was bleeding from her scalp and just starred in terror and helplessness. I saw children running and my dad hollering for them to get back away from the gas container that was spewing dangerous sprays of gas. My dad got out and screamed at my mother to get behind the car wheel to drive. He helped with the wounded... he was a medic in the Navy. Dad sent the rest of us home.. to get to safety. Mom drove my two older brothers, sister and myself home and we ran to the basement of our house. There were two more tornadoes that I remember coming near our house. The tornado winds rocked our house and send plates, glasses and pictures breaking on the floors. We huddled down in the basement grabbing each other and praying that there was a house above us when the storms finished. The tornado sounded like a giant freight train going through our house above us. Dad, in the meantime was helping survivors and directing traffic. He said that during on of the tornadoes the wind was so violent, that he had to hold onto a big pole to keep from getting sucked up by the winds. The wind picked my dad up off the ground and with the help of God, dad managed to hold onto the pole. I remember a lot of the churches and schools were turned into morgues, emergency hospitals, and housing.
    Our family was truly protected by the hand of God. No significant damage was done to our property.
    For the next two weeks we spent the days helping families with food and hot cooked meals. Dad and mom volunteered with the Red Cross to hunt for survivors. They took water and food to the outskirts of Goshen to people who had been devastated by the storms. Some of the families they found had no water, electricity or help for over a week.
    I was only 12, but the images of that horrible day will be with me forever.
    Thanks for your account of Palm Sunday 1965
    Irma B. Hendrix

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  3. I remember Irma Hendrix - met her a couple of years after these tornadoes when her last name was Bowen. I was from Anderson. The night of the bad storms, the weather was beautiful in Anderson, much warmer than usual. My parents were out on the porch listening to the radio - only time I ever saw them do that! They said the weather was terrible very close to us. I couldn't believe it. They said tornadoes were striking Marion, just 24 miles north of us. It spooked me because I knew nothing about tornadoes before then. It is fitting that I ended up living in Oklahoma City for fifteen years. - DDH

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