It was a beautiful day, most people around these parts who can remember will tell you. It was one of those near-perfect, early spring days, they would likely say, a stark contrast to what early evening would bring on April 11, 1965.
Yes, the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1965, is still very vivid in our local history five decades later. Those were days before Doppler Radar, 24-7 cable television, countywide siren warning systems and even seatbelts in most cars. So, when afternoon turned to early evening, many local residents had little or no warning that killer tornadoes were nearly on top of them.
A photo of twin, F-4 (out of 5) tornadoes chewing up the Midway Trailer Park between Goshen and Dunlap, became the iconic image of that day and, in a broader sense, our local history. In Elkhart and LaGrange counties alone 55 people were killed. Hundreds of homes were destroyed. The destruction was so dramatic and profound that the president of the United States felt compelled to visit.
Those were different days. If there was an exact repeat of the Palm Sunday scenario today, we have no doubt fewer lives would be lost because of better weather tracking, a superior warning system and more stringent building codes.
Still, we are reminded that mankind is little match for the fury of Mother Nature. Hurricane Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, and an EF-5 tornado that destroyed a third of Joplin, Mo. (a city comparable in size to Goshen), have been reminders of that fact. Unfortunately, we’ll see similar scenes in the years to come. Disaster can live in any zip code.
On Saturday we launched a five-part series about disaster preparedness in conjunction with our parent company Community Newspapers Holdings Inc. One of our sister papers is in Joplin. The first two parts of the series ran this weekend. The remaining three parts will span the next three Sundays. We’re not running this series to be alarmists or stir fear within the community. We’re running it because we’re realists, and the more we talk about being prepared for such unpredictable events, the more we actually might be prepared.
The memories of Palm Sunday are fading like the old newsprint where that remarkable history was chronicled. Forty-eight years is a long time ago. But the lessons of that day should stay with us always.