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Twenty Years
Those trapped in bowling alley say it was a miracle they survived twister

By Kris Epley
The Independent

Carri Ball cowered under a small sink, gripping the pipes with every bit of strength she could muster, hoping it would be enough to save her from the dark, angry beast descending from the sky.

As the monster arrived, dozens of people huddled with Ball in the darkness, waiting. As the onslaught began, some people screamed, some cried. Others were frozen in fear.

And most called out to God to save them from the massive tornado that was raging around them.

"I remember people praying and saying Hail Marys. We were all afraid we were going to die," Ball said.

She was one of dozens of people who weathered the June 3, 1980, Grand Island tornadoes in a rest room at Meves Bowl, which was located where Super Bowl is today.

"That was all we could do," she said, "hang on for our lives and pray."

That no one was killed when the tornado stripped the building to its steel frame amazes Ball even now, 20 years later. It's a miracle that could, perhaps, be attributed to the prayers uttered by those who faced death on a cold rest room floor, she said.

Jacqui Meves Alms, whose family owned Meves Bowl, agreed that divine intervention undoubtedly prevented fatalities at the bowling alley.

But she said the design of the building also played an important role in protecting those within.

"It had a strong steel structure, and it was well built," she said. "And the areas where people took shelter in it were very heavily supported. I'm glad it was there for them."

In addition to the rest rooms, bowling alley patrons sought shelter in an enormous walk-in cooler. Both areas were in the heavily reinforced center of the building.

Ball didn't know about the structural integrity of the area when she raced for the rest room. At the time, it just seemed a logical place to seek shelter.

And she recalls that hiding under a sink was not how she had envisioned ending what began as an ordinary outing.

Ball and her husband, Robert, in their early 20s at the time, had recently joined their first bowling league. On the evening of June 3, they were still playing the first game when someone came in and mentioned that the weather was turning nasty.

Some people then left, while others, like the Balls, stayed around for a while to visit with friends. As some sat inside, others kept watch outside. Suddenly, those sentinels rushed into the bowling alley shouting a warning.

"They ran in and yelled that it was coming this way," Ball said. "There wasn't time to do anything else, so I dove into the bathroom."

Within a few seconds, the power went off, plunging those inside the building into terrifying darkness. Then the tornado hit the building, tearing away the walls and ceilings.

Ball opened her eyes briefly as the tornado shredded the building, only to discover that her eyes couldn't penetrate the terrifying darkness. But she heard the fearsome wind howling around her, the sounds of things around her being smashed and destroyed.

Then, almost as suddenly as it had begun, it was over.

The shaken survivors crawled out of their hiding places and into the soaking rain that had started to fall. The building had disintegrated, Ball said, but the bowling lanes remained largely intact. Among other debris, a car had been deposited on a couple of the alleys.

Although the devastation was almost complete, Ball said, the tornado did spare small parts of the bowling alley.

"In the lounge area, a big mirror behind the bar and the liquor cabinets were all untouched, and a few tables were right where they were before," Ball said. "But everything else around that was just demolished. It was weird."

Ball said her memories of the tornado have dimmed slightly through the years. But the ordeal is still fresh enough to remind her that one such experience is more than enough.

"It's not something I ever want to go through again," she said. "It's not something I'd ever want anybody to have to go through."