Goshen News, Goshen, IN

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April 27, 2013

Palm Sunday remains a county claim to fame

A sidebar to the first part of our "Are We Ready?" series.

GOSHEN — When it comes to natural disasters, Mother Nature has certainly left her mark on Northern Indiana.

While not overly prone to major floods or earthquakes — both of which are still possibilities — the most predominant threat of natural disaster locally has been tornadoes. The most iconic, well-documented and even mythical natural disasters to occur locally was the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak that raked the area on April 11, 1965.

By all accounts, it was a beautiful Palm Sunday morning and afternoon before the skies began darkening to the west around 6 p.m. By the end of the night, 49 people in Elkhart County and another 16 in LaGrange County were killed in one of the deadliest outbreaks of tornadoes in U.S. history.

More than 300 local people were injured and there was more than $12 million in estimated damage. To this day, the Palm Sunday tornadoes remain one of the most significant historical events in the county’s history. The death toll included 10 people in the Midway Mobile Home Park northwest of Goshen, near the current site of the C.R. 17 bridge that extends over U.S. 33 and The Elkhart River.

Paul Huffman, a photographer for The Elkhart Truth, captured one of the most iconic photos of the storm as giant twin tornadoes barreled through the trailer park and across U.S. 33. The twin twisters entered the county north of Wakarusa and ripped a path of destruction all the way to the Middlebury and Stone Lake areas.

Of the four twisters that sliced through the county that day, three were classified as EF-4s and one as an EF-3.

Four residents in Jefferson Township were also killed, as were six county residents near the intersection of Ind. 15 and U.S. 20. The other Elkhart County deaths were in Dunlap’s Sunnyside housing addition.

In LaGrange County eight residents were killed when a tornado wiped out a residential area near the Shore Mennonite Church just south of Shipshewana.

Goshen General Hospital was jammed beyond capacity with storm victims and hundreds of emergency calls flooded Goshen phone lines after it was reported on national television that “the small college town of Goshen, Ind., was wiped out.” In reality, Goshen was mostly spared while many areas on the northern and western fringes of the city were destroyed.

The carnage from the storm was so severe that President Lyndon B. Johnson visited Dunlap on April 14, 1965 and walked through the debris.

All told, The Palm Sunday outbreak consisted of 47 tornadoes over six states and accounted for 271 deaths. The 137 deaths that occurred in Indiana make the storm the deadliest ever in the state’s history.

While the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak has few historic equals, there have been some other notable storms locally in the past 80 years. Here are a few:

Oct. 18, 2007

The most significant tornado to hit the area since the Palm Sunday outbreak, leveled a large swath of Nappanee, slicing a scar of destruction through the east side of the city from the southern to the northern limits.

The EF-3 tornado had wind speeds of 165 mph and cut a damage path of nearly a half-mile wide. Along it’s seven-mile track, 459 homes and businesses were damaged. Remarkably, there were no deaths and just a few minor injuries reported.

June 23, 2010

Four confirmed tornadoes made touchdown in Elkhart County with eyewitness accounts of a possible fifth tornado touchdown. One of those tornadoes, an EF0, developed near Parkside Elementary school on Goshen’s south side, and tracked about four blocks south east before lifting. It left a 100-yard wide path of damage, the most significant of which was in the 1100 block of South Eighth Street.

Other tornadoes that night cut through farmland from near Wakarusa to New Paris and from near Benton to south of Millersburg.

The storms destroyed many trees and caused significant property damage to homes and businesses. There were no fatalities or serious injuries reported.

July 21, 1943

A violent storm swept across Northern Indiana during the early evening hours. In its path was Lake Wawasee in Syracuse. The wind from the storm reportedly caused 6-foot waves on the lake, one of which crashed into a boat, capsizing it and spilling the 14 people it was carrying into the water.  Six people who were riding in the boat drowned. Winds from the storm also caused extensive property damage to homes along the lake.

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