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Anniversary stirs tornado memories

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By Leslie Moore

 

The lime gold 1974 Ford Maverick had just 600 miles on it. It was the first - and last - new car Roy and Ginny Holt would ever buy.

As the sinister black clouds moved closer to the Holts' mobile home on Liberty Road on April 3, 1974, Ginny rushed to gather a few essential items before they headed to a neighbor's house to seek shelter in their basement.

"At that time, our daughter was just a year old and I was still using diapers and everything for her," Ginny said.

The day before, Ginny had gotten her ears pierced and was instructed to clean them with peroxide a few times a day. By the time they got to Billy and Sue Dabney's house on Raikes Hill Road, the angry clouds were threateningly close.

Ginny looked down and realized that while she remembered to bring the peroxide, she had forgotten to bring a diaper bag.

"So we had to make a trip back over here to get the diaper bag," Ginny said. "It put us pretty close on time."

After the tornado passed through, the Holts gingerly crept outside to assess the damage. Roy said there was hail as big as grapefruit all over the yard. Forty years to the day later, Roy can't help but laugh when he talks about their new car.

"The hail hit that little old car and knocked holes in it," he said.

The windshield and side glass were still intact, however.

The Holts returned to their home and discovered that the tornado had lifted the trailer off its concrete block foundation and sat it back down. Aside from some damage to the trailer's tongue and floor, their home had weathered the storm.

"I remember that day was real balmy, warm," Delma Wise said. "It just had a funny feeling to it."

The tornado came so close to Delma and her husband Willard's home on Elk Horn Road that he was able snap a few photos as it moved toward Mannsville. He remembers watching a roof float around the cyclone like a leaf in a whirlwind.

"It sounded like a train coming through," Delma said.

The Wises tuned in to local radio station WTCO for updates. They listened as a report came out that Elk Horn was about to be hit.

"I told Delma, I said call them and tell them it's done past Elk Horn and it's headed to Mannsville," Willard said.

In the days that followed, Willard said he heard several shocking stories about close encounters with the tornado. He remembers hearing about two young men trying to outrun the tornado in a 1939 Chevrolet on Lemon Bend Road.

"It was getting so close to them that they stopped the car, jumped out and laid down in a ditch at the end of a culvert," Willard said. "And I'm told that the only way you could tell what kind of a car it was is if you know what the dash looks like."

Although the tornado was in plain view from their property, the Wises' home was spared from damage. The residents of nearby Mannsville, however, weren't so lucky. Although there were no deaths, most of the 56 reported injuries were in Mannsville. The property loss reached the thousands.

Edith "Pete" Holt ran the Star Service Station in Mannsville with her late husband Ray, who was Roy's brother. She remembers running out of gas that afternoon and telling the young man who worked for them to close up and go home.

"So we closed up just before the tornado, or we would have been in it," Edith said.

Unable to convince Ray to leave the house, Edith went to Coy and Claudia Murphy's house so she could stay in their basement while the tornado passed through. Ray watched the tornado standing in the doorway.

"He made fun of me - 'Ah it ain't gonna do nothin,' - that's how he was," Edith said. "But it changed him after the storm hit. I think after that, he kind of listened."

When Edith stepped outside after the tornado had passed, she said everyone was in shock.

"I couldn't tell where nothing was, it was all rubble," Edith said. "I looked over and made sure our house was still there."

Like much of Mannsville, the service station and the feed mill the Holts operated were destroyed. Roy said the service station was a large building and its 36x50 metal roof was found some time later in the woods almost completely intact.

Edith said last Thursday that her nephew called and asked if she remembered what April 3 was.

"I said, Yeah I do, that was 40 years ago and I was 40 years old when it hit,'" Edith said. "I don't think I'll ever forget it."

Taylor County Fire & Rescue Chief George Wilson, who was a firefighter and emergency manager at the time, watched the tornado a few miles away in the distance from his home on Wise Road.

"It was just a big black circling cloud and you could see sparks in it from where it was hitting the electric wires," Wilson said.

The first area he went to provide aid after the tornado was Speck Ridge.

There he found a young woman who had gotten out of her car and laid in a ditch.

"It didn't hurt her too bad, but she was skinned up a lot," Wilson said. "It was probably 30 to 40 minutes before we realized Mannsville had got hit."

In the days and weeks that followed, Edith said the Kentucky State Police and the National Guard came to watch over Mannsville as there were several instances of people stealing copper wire and other valuable items from the rubble.

She said only so much could be salvaged.

"They finally just had dozers come in and bury it," Edith said. "There's a lot of stuff buried up there."

About a month after the tornado, a man from Mannsville brought some pants that needed hemming to Delma, who worked as a seamstress. He mentioned hearing a corrected report broadcast over the radio that the tornado was coming straight for Mannsville.

"He told her that she probably saved some lives because Mannsville was just kind of watching it, they didn't know," Willard said. "They were just out observing it and then after Delma called the radio station, they took cover."

After finding out that even with insurance it would cost $1,800 to buy a new car, Roy insisted that the Maverick be repaired despite protests from his mechanic.

"Oh Lord, he worked on it for three weeks trying to find all the holes," Roy said.

After their experience with the tornado in 1974, the Holts say they take tornado warnings very seriously.

"People wonder why you jump and run, but we don't have a basement here," Ginny said. "When we get warnings and it's looking pretty bad, we get in the car and go to the [Mannsville United Methodist] church basement."

And for anyone else who wants to take shelter during a storm, Roy always makes sure to leave the church unlocked so others can come in.