When we moved to Topeka in 1980, we bought a house on the South East side of town.  It was a nice home but not all that well built.  I am pretty sure it was built as a spec home and the fixtures were only mid range.  We considered it a temporary location and not where we were going to live forever.

For three years we settled into a routine of fairly normal things.  The wife taught school and our son had several neighborhood friends.  On Friday nights, I would often pick up a pizza and we would eat it at home.  May 1983 was a pretty normal evening and the only unusual thing was the fact that our dog was running loose and a storm was on the horizon. 

After eating pizza, I got in the car and drove around the neighborhood to see if I could spot Fritzi.  I was pretty sure there was a female dog somewhere and he was visiting.  I had no luck and it looked like it was about to start raining.  I returned to our house and as I turned into the driveway it started with a mixture of rain and pea sized hail.  As I drove into the garage, the tornado siren down the street started.   I opened the door into the family room and heard the weatherman on the TV tell us to seek shelter immediately.  My son said that the tornado was at 45th and Topeka boulevard.  That was about 5 miles from us.  I turned around and looked outside.

There was a strange looking cloud to the southwest.  It looked like a flock of birds was flying in a circle.  About that time I saw the roof of a house explode and debris filled the air.  I turned to run into the house and I tried to shut the garage door.  The power had shut off and the garage door was still wide open.  I hollered to get into the bathroom and by that time Barbara and Dave were headed there.  We went inside and shut the door.

At first, all we heard was the sound of the wind and a few things hitting the house.  The noise intensified and some larger things started hitting the house.  I told Barb that I thought the roof was going and then the wind and daylight started coming into the room that had been dark.  Years earlier there had been a movie about an alien visit to our planet and a little boy went into the living room and a combination of wind and light came into the door.  I kind of had a flashback to that movie. 

Then, all hell broke lose.  A wall on the opposite side of the bathroom moved and slammed me against the wall behind me.  There had been a stool, a vanity, a hot water heater and a furnace all crammed into the space I had been in.  It was like I was playing tackle football with the house.  I remember doing my best to scrunch down on the floor and get below the impact.  Clearly the house had been blown at least five feet to the east and mashed me pretty good.

The house blown five feet to the west

When the house stopped moving, I heard my wife ask if I was OK.  I told her to get out and I would see if I could move out of the pile of things on top of me.  I struggled forward in the pile to what I thought was a small opening.  I had no idea that I could get out but was relieved that Barbara and Dave could.  Slowly, I inched forward a little at a time until I could get to an opening. I was able to lift things up a couple of inches and move forward a couple of inches.  I had no clue how long it took but I finally climbed out and got clear of the pile.   Prior to that, I had never been claustrophobic but found out that after that day I could not be in small closed spaces.  In fact that turned into the recurring nightmare that would wake me up from a deep sleep for several years.  

As I walked through the family room. water was falling from the water pipe that supplied water to the house. It was broken off and I could not find the shutoff valve.  The only way out was through the garage.  The house was sitting at about a 45 degree angle from the front to the rear.  A support beside the garage door had come down in the back seat of the 78 Malibu and was holding the house up.  Had that not happened, I hate to think what would have happened to me.  I probably would have been trapped under the pile and not been able to get out.  I saw my tool box and shut off the water at the meter out in the yard.

This is what held the house up so we could escape

I heard a loud hissing noise and it seemed to be coming from the gas meter under the back of the house.  As I got out and saw that the wife and my son were OK, a man came running down the street. I had no clue how long it had been but that person crawled under the back side of the house and managed to turn off the gas before it blew up the house and or burned to down.  I was thankful that he had showed up and helped.  I never did get to know his name and thank him.  I think he went on up the street where there was a vacant lot where a house had been. 

Slowly, the realization hit us that the house and the contents were things and the real important thing to us was the fact that we were alive and relatively OK.    It had all happened so fast that I didn't know how Barb and Dave had escaped so easily.  Only later did I see that the wall that had mashed me had provided a cover when it flattened out by hitting the freezer in the storage room.  They were very lucky and I was thankful they were safe.  I was able to push Barb's car out of the garage and she was able to go to a local store and to purchase shoes for us all.  I have no clue what happened to mine but they both had theirs off.

One of the first things I wanted to do was to survey the damage.  As I walked around the back door of the house, I heard the phone ringing. It was a wall phone that was right by the door leading out to the deck.  The deck was knocked down and back door that had been 5 or 6 feet off the ground was right at ground level.  How the phone line didn't get ripped off was just one of those strange things.  When I answered the phone it was my work calling asking me to come into the State Defense Building because a tornado had crossed the SE part of town.  I told them that I knew that as I was standing by what was left of my house.   The person that called kind of laughed and said it didn't go near where I  lived.   Wrong answer, I was lucky to be alive and he needed to mark my neighborhood on the map as having been in the path of the tornado funnel.  The street I lived on was Driftwood Court and it had made at least three houses into driftwood. 

This is the back view of the house that had been 5 feet off the ground at the start

I will close this story here and finish it tomorrow. 


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