The damage in Madison, IN from the April 3, 1974 tornado (Source: Madison Courier)
Mayor Damon Welch
MADISON, IN (WAVE) - For anyone who lives in Kentuckiana older than age 45, the events of April 3 & 4, 1974 sticks in the mind. That's when not only Kentuckiana, but a big chunk of the country, found itself in the path of a super outbreak of tornadoes. More than 300 people died, including 77 in Kentucky and 49 in Indiana. Eleven of those killed in southern Indiana would not be forgotten on a day that many would rather not remember.
"There's nothing that compares to this," said John Gordon with the National Weather Service. "The thing is, you either had nothing that day or you had a tornado."
"If anyone has been in Madison very long, you can go down the street and ask them and they can tell you where they were," said Madison, IN Mayor Damon Welch.
"The best way to describe it is like a tank was going over the top of you," said Jefferson County Commissioner Robert Little, "and this went on for minutes and then just quite, just like a tomb and Dorothy said, 'Do you think it's over?' and I said, ‘I don't know' and about that time, all hell broke loose again."
After the storm, Hanover and Madison were never quite the same.
"I opened the back door and looked out," Little said, "and it looked like a war zone. There was nothing but rubble. It looked like Berlin after the war."
"Of course, my heart kind of sank at the time, because who could live through something like that?" said Jefferson County Commissioner Mark Cash.
Cash's sister was in the crumpled Southwestern Elementary school.
"The high school was completely gone," said Cash, "there was no sign of the high school at all. The elementary school there was only a few walls still standing ... Some other people came up that I knew and said that my sister had survived the tornado."
So many survived with scars but their homes, stores and schools were gone for good. The area came out stronger.
"Years later, even though it's a tragic time, we can look back and see how Madison pulled together and they still do that," Welch said.
So many other things changed because of the super tornado outbreak. Gordon said that weather radios, storm spotters, storm surveys and Doppler radar all had their roots in learning to do better after the storms that killed so many.