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The Day After
Multi-twisters stab Grand Island

By the Independent Staff

At least three people are dead, 134 were injured and several others were missing Wednesday morning after tornadoes devastated Grand Island Tuesday night.

An 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew for the entire city has been issued by the Nebraska National Guard to prevent looting and sightseers.

The tornadoes danced through the South Locust business district and residential areas in southeast and northwest Grand Island, leaving a wide path of destruction.

The storm affected 150 square blocks in the city, according to the report of a Federal Emergency Management Agency flyover of the city. The agency reported 200 homes were destroyed and 200 sustained major damage. It stated that 60 businesses were destroyed and 15 sustained major damage.

However, Grand Island Mayor Robert Kriz said those figures were "way too low."

Officials say damage was extensive but no dollar figures were available. Keith Sinor, city attorney, said a dollar estimate will be available within a 24-hour period, possibly by Wednesday evening.

Natural gas and electricity were cut off throughout the city because of possible explosions from gas leaks. Bob Olson, city utilities director, said it may be three or four days before power is restored to the city.

Debris from the tornado will be piled up on the side of the streets and collected at a later date, according to Col. Burl Johnson of the Nebraska National Guard.

Nebraska Gov. Charles Thone declared the city a disaster area and came to Grand Island Wednesday morning to inspect the damage. Thone took an aerial tour of the city and toured the hardest hit areas on the ground.

Thone and Rep. Virginia Smith Wednesday requested that President Carter declare the city a Federal disaster area.

Smith said Wednesday afternoon she has been assured by the White House and the declaration will be made Wednesday.

More than 100 emergency personnel from as far away as Lexington assisted Grand Island police and firemen throughout the night. Troops from the Grand Island National Guard unit are at annual training exercises at Ft. Carson, Colo. Guardsmen from other cities were dispatched to Grand Island.

Guardsmen are on duty providing security for the damaged property in northwest Grand Island, which has been cordoned off.

At about 4:30 a.m. four persons suspected of looting were arrested on South Locust Street.

Emergency services are being coordinated at the Hall County Civil Defense office in City Hall and at a mobile communications command center at the Kmart store at 607 S. Locust.

The Kmart store also is reportedly being used as a temporary morgue by emergency officials.

Spokesmen for the Hall County sheriff's department and county attorney said the bodies of two people were unearthed from rubble in the South Locust area and one was killed in the northwest section of the city.

One body was discovered in the 3800 block of S. Locust and another body was uncovered from rubble at the Pagoda Lounge at 1312 S. Locust.

Names of victims had not been released at noon.

The first funnel was sighted in Grand Island at about 9 p.m. by Hall County Sheriff's Deputy Kelly Buck.

Buck was at Highways 2 and 281 north of town when he saw the funnel touch down. A second tornado touched down near Capital Avenue and Howard Street, according to representatives from the Grand Island Emergency Center.

The most devastating tornado touched down near Meves Bowl and Fonner Park Road about 10:20 p.m.

The tornado demolished the brick Meves Bowl structure and destroyed homes in the area. Several people in the area were trapped in the basements overnight.

The South Locust business district was devastated when another tornado touched down at 10:25 p.m. near the Gibson's store at Bismark Road and traveled south down Locust.

The Pagoda Lounge collapsed with people inside. One person was killed. Workers removed the body from the rubble early Wednesday morning.

Near Willman's Market at 1201 S. Locust, which was gutted by the storm, the smell of gas from broken lines hung in the air all night long.

Veteran's Hospital in northwest Grand Island sustained a reported million dollars in damage during the tornado. However, most of the damage was confined to broken windows and water damage.

According to Marilyn Peterson, information coordinator, all patients were moved to lower floors before the storm hit. No one was injured.

Max Cleland, head of the Veteran's Administration, told Smith Wednesday that the VA will repair the hospital. Work will begin immediately.

Most of the damage in northwest Grand Island was limited to roof damage, although some homes were destroyed in the Capital Heights area. District 30 elementary school received some structural damage.

Houses along Capital Avenue between North Road and Highway 281 sustained the most damage.

At 5 a.m., emergency officials began combing the city to look for survivors and casualties.

The city was divided into 25 areas and search teams were assigned to each area. Structures were marked with a spray painted 'x' when it was checked. People who refused to leave unsafe structures were removed by the police.

Hall County Sheriff Chuck Fairbanks said when officials began digging out persons trapped in debris, 10 ambulances stood by. Those 10 were quickly filled as the injured were rushed to St. Francis and Lutheran hospitals.

The sheriff said he had no idea how many injured persons were removed from homes. He said one problem was the lack of communication during the height of the storm's fury.