from The Grand Island Independent
link: Opinion

Lessons learned from tornadoes of June 3, 1980

Last modified at 11:47 p.m. on Friday, June 2, 2000

Two decades have passed since the nighttime stood still in Grand Island. On June 3, 1980, Grand Island residents took cover as a massive storm cell formed over the community and spawned seven tornadoes.

People who live in Grand Island some 20 years later have their own memories of the massive destruction. Some are of pain and sorrow. Others are of kindness and heroism.

Either way, the memories are fading, and the moment is one that Grand Island residents should never forget.

The destruction was at its worst. Yet people were at their best. There were no divisions among rural and city or north, south, east and west. People simply went to others and asked, "What can I do to help?"

The terrible storm did take away our normalcy. Many people lost their homes and businesses. Many lost their vehicles. Some even lost their jobs. For a while, children didn't play Little League baseball or participate in other organized activities.

For a few days, Grand Island residents learned to live without their utilities. Islanders stood in long lines to get ice. Most used their backyard grills to prepare food.

Some of the change to Grand Island brought by damage became permanent. The beautiful trees along South Locust are gone forever. Many of the businesses that were landmarks in 1980 also are gone.

But change comes -- with or without tornadoes.

Since the June 3, 1980, tornadoes, most change in Grand Island has been for the better. The community, which worked very hard that summer to rebuild, has grown larger. New business and industry have arrived in Grand Island and helped to redefine it.

Grand Island also has learned lessons from the tornadoes that struck 20 years ago. The civil defense center at City Hall is state of the art. Law enforcement and rescue agencies have worked hard through the years to train for emergencies.

Valuable information from the storm, still regarded as one of the most unique weather events in the United States, has been gleaned by meteorologists and other experts. The author Ivy Ruckman has immortalized the tornadoes in her book, "Night of the Twisters," a must-read for every fourth-grader in the United States.

The night is difficult to explain to those who didn't live through it. But it is a terrible moment that can happen any spring in Central Nebraska. This week, strong winds ripped through many area communities, just another reminder of how forceful nature can be this time of year.

Grand Island residents did learn that they can survive terrible tornadoes. Property losses can become devastating, but death and injury can be minimized. We only need to be informed and vigilant.