Your letters: Right in the storms path - just months after moving from California, Carolyn (Francis) Anderson

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(SUBMITTED) -- My mother, Venita Francis, was born in Topeka, Ks. She and my father moved to California after their marriage, and had three children. They later divorced.

My mother, brother, sister and I moved from Southern California to Kansas on the train, arriving December 4th, 1965. We stayed with relatives in Waverly until Mom found a job in Topeka. We moved to 1254 Tyler Street in January 1966. We lived in a rental on the 1st floor of a 3-story home. There was a wraparound porch with 8 pillars, and had a yard full of many large established trees. A 3-car garage was at the alley.

I was 14 years old and in the 9th grade, my brother Calvin was in the 6th grade, and my sister Cathy (Catherine) was in 2nd grade. I had never been in a tornado watch or warning before.

On June 8th, 1966, I stood on the front porch, seeing an intensely green sky, approximately 7:15 pm. I went inside and told my mother that she had better get out of the bathtub, because it looked stormy and terrible outside. As soon as I spoke those words, the tornado sirens sounded. Mother swiftly zipped on her robe, put on shoes, and the 4 of us headed to the kitchen at the back of the home. There was a small crawl space under the kitchen. We went there with small folding camp stools, and a tiny transistor radio with poor reception.

It was very still outside until we quickly heard a roaring train type noise, seemingly moving closer to us and getting louder. There was then so much pressure that the dirt rose up off the floor. Our heads and ears felt as though they would implode. We heard bits and pieces of comments on the radio. It seemed like so much commotion, and then quiet.

When we felt it was safe to do so, we opened the crawl space latch. Mother recalled that we children kept saying, "Mom!", "Mom!", in louder voices as we kept seeing more sights. There was devastation everywhere, with trees in the backyard own over and up next to the kitchen. A crumpled washing machine and twisted car parts were mixed in the backyard toppled trees.

The south side of the home was partially gone, as though looking into a doll house. We could see the sky from some parts of the first floor. There were three of the 8 front porch pillars remaining, with a sagging porch roof over them. One of our pillows was twisted in a debarked side tree, with the alarm clock in the nearby grass. Mother's dresser chest with mirror hanging on the wall was now spun around with the mirror, leaning against the wall. The chest of drawers had all of its drawers facing against the wall, all in the original place in the room. Glass was shattered and all over the floors and all over outside. The large pocket double doors were hanging every which way. The bathroom had a large tree smashed through the wall and into the tub, with toilet paper wrapped all over it.

The yard was a sea of debris, with downed electrical wires everywhere. What a muddy mess!

A lady was screaming in what used to be the middle of the street. She was crying out, "My curtains, my curtains!", while holding a muddy rag in her hands.

A bachelor had lived on the 3rd floor of our large home. He worked part time for a taxi company. He parked about a block away and carefully made his way over to our house. We walked with him to the taxi. We tried to find our way to a working phone, in order to advise relatives in Coffey County that we were alive. We finally found an available phone at the commercial bus depot at 6th & Jackson ( NE corner).

Next, we headed south on Topeka Blvd, seeing destruction everywhere. The first place that had any lodging available was at the Howard Johnson Motel, near 39th and south Topeka Blvd. Mom, Calvin, Cathy and I had a room where we could stay, and we were glued to watching the TV. I used the brush inside the hair roller to try to comb my long hair, and sister's hair.

We were very thankful to be alive! It was hard to sleep.

Fortunately, our elderly landlady used the bank for property management. Lodging was minimal, but we were able and lucky to find another rental, through the bank, at 824 Tyler.

The majority of our meager belongings were all destroyed. Our relatives in Burlington and Waverly went to farm sales and to neighbors to refurbish our home with basic necessities. They came to help us, and got clearance from the National Guards, in order to help us in the restricted areas. We also had Salvation Army canteens offering drinks and sandwiches nearby.

We went to the top of the Capital and also to the Docking Bldg. observation floor to view the tornado's destructive path. It looked as though a gigantic lawnmower had plowed down homes and trees in a southwest to northeast direction. We heard that photos and checks from Topeka had been found in the St Joseph, Missouri , area, from this storm.

1254 SW Tyler was razed and became a parking lot.

My husband is from Garnett, Ks. That same storm system went down Highway 169, south of Garnett, for about a mile. It blew car pieces into tree limbs, which stayed in the trees for years.

Our family has vivid memories of the June 8th, 1966 tornado. Our children and grandchildren were told of this historic event. We definitely respect the weather. We are appreciative to be alive.

Very thankfully,
Carolyn (Francis) Anderson