Telephone lines were jammed, and in many cases radio and TV stations were unable to broadcast timely warnings as the tornado system pounded its way across the Midwest on Palm Sunday, April 11, 1965.
It was a recipe for disaster.
What followed 49 years ago this Friday was the most deadly tornado to ever hit Allen County, killing 10, and the third most deadly day for tornadoes nationwide, killing 271 people.
Only April 3, 1974, with 330 deaths — including 36 people in Xenia — and the April 11, 2011, tornadoes that pillaged the South with 316 people killed, were more deadly.
All three of these April tornadoes serve as a reminder this month of the caution people should take when countywide emergency alarms are sounded.
In Allen County that Palm Sunday, the twisters came around 9:3o p.m. as people finished watching “Bonanza” on TV and parents tucked their children into bed, looking forward to the week ahead. The twisters first ripped a path of destruction between Gomer and Cairo and then moved eastward between Beaverdam and Bluffton.
They caught up with Mr. and Mrs. James Imm on state Route 65 near Cairo. The Imms never made it to their 540 W. McKibben St. home in Lima that night. Their car was picked up and hurled into a water-filled ditch, where their two children, Scott, 2, and Andrew, 5 months, drowned. James and his wife somehow survived after a lengthy search was launched for the family that night.
Five other deaths occurred in Bluffton, including three members of one family: Jo Steiner, 19, his mother, Mrs. Ulysses (Betty) Reichenbach, 42, both of Route 2; and Eva Clymer, 75, of Findlay, who was at her daughter’s home. The other two who died in Bluffton were Mrs.Lilly Manahan, 87, of Bently Road; and Mrs. Ida Lugabuhl, address unlisted.
Also killed that day were two people from Elida — Mrs. Emma Jane Dunlap, 68, of Hook-Waltz Road, and Clair Vandemark, of State Road — and Mrs. Merle Arnold, of Route 2, Columbus Grove.
Among the lucky people were Ronald Johnson and his seven children. Sitting barefoot in the nurse’s home at Lima Memorial Hospital, he told Pat Collar, a reporter for The Lima News, how they escaped with their lives that evening. He had just put the children, ages 4 to 14, upstairs to bed when he heard a Toledo TV report that Van Wert had been hit by a tornado. He no sooner got six of the children downstairs and under some heavy dining room furniture when the top of his Yant Road house was torn off. The other child, Tony, was asleep on a couch in the living room in front of a big picture window and miraculously survived.
It was the horrors of the Palm Sunday tornadoes that eventually led the National Weather Service to develop the tornado watch and warning system we currently have. In addition to outdoor sirens today, Emergency Management Agencies also utilize social media for notifications and the National Weather Service can send alerts to smartphones.
No warning system is foolproof, however. They all depend on people to heed their call to take the necessary precautions.
We can only hope people pay attention.
ROSES AND THORNS: A team that loves books and basketballs is a welcome addition to the rose garden.
Rose: All five starters on Crestview’s Division IV state champion boys basketball team, along with three other players, were named Northwest Conference Scholar-Athletes for having a grade point average of 3.0 or higher during the grading period, which included their season.
Rose: To Leslie Neu, a senior at Apollo Career Center, who was named the Lima Exchange Club’s 2014 Accepting the Challenge of Excellence award winner. The honor goes to students who show great perseverance when facing tremendous obstacles. Neu never lost her focus on getting an education despite spending part of her childhood in foster care and helping raise her brothers. Her goal now is to become a lawyer.
Rose: To the Charles River research facility in Spencerville. On Thursday it held the grand opening for the first phase of an expansion project that had been put on hold for four years. The project may see the 144-employee facility add as many as 15 jobs now and a total of 60 when the entire expansion is complete.
Thorn: To an off-duty Allen County sheriff’s deputy who was working security Friday at the Eagles Club. Instead of chastising club members who were illegally parked in Christian Cross Church parking lot, the deputy began yelling at the pastor of the church for trying to have the club members’ cars towed away.
Thorn: To Heritage School Principal Stacy Barker and Lima Schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman for misleading comments made in a Lima News article. The comments became known after the mother of a student who transferred her son into Heritage from St. Gerard School questioned the claim Barker made to the newspaper about the 10-year-old boy being disruptive to the class because he was “not at the same level” of other students and “not where teachers are as far as pacing guides go.” The mother wondered how that could be since her son brought home two Certificates of Achievement in math. Ackerman defended Barker’s comments in an email saying, “It was never said that they were below level. Just not at the same level.”
Thorn: To Nicholas Page Simpson, 19, who claims residences in both Lima and Celina. He can add the Multi-County Jail in Marion to his list of homes after he was caught making a bomb threat to his employer of one month, Ada Technologies. The company had to temporarily shut down the plant and evacuate its 150 employees after Simpson’s stroke of brilliance.
PARTING SHOT: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.