Louisville tornado survivor rediscovers letter detailing ’74 outbreak

Published: Apr. 8, 2021 at 9:37 PM EDT
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McDaniel rediscovered the letter he wrote to his parents.
McDaniel rediscovered the letter he wrote to his parents.(WAVE 3 News)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - It’s almost been half a century since a tornado outbreak left Louisville devastated on April 3, 1974.

A man who lived through some of the scariest moments of that day is remembering them more clearly after finding a letter he wrote to his family after the storm rolled through.

Until last weekend, it was mostly dark skies that reminded Isaac McDaniel of one of the most intense days of his life.

“One of the librarians there at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary called us over and she said a terrible tornado has gone through Brandenburg and its headed right toward Louisville,” McDaniel said.

At the time, he was a student at the Seminary.

But, now, almost 50 years later, the distinct details of that day have been resurrected. McDaniel rediscovered a letter he wrote to his parents after taking cover.

“When I started reading it, it really took me back,” he said.

His own words typed on paper triggered memories forged in the wake of the storms, but lost to time.

“Dear folks, I just experienced a fascinating occurrence,” McDaniel started the letter. “We watched a tornado take shape in the sky over the seminary and pass northward.”

McDaniel recounted the moments the powerful tornado clobbered the city.

“It looked like tiny scraps of cotton, stray pieces of cotton candy caught in front of a fan and circling each other... We knew then that we were watching a tornado being born in its very first stages.”

Another line describes the overwhelming smell of pine in the aftermath of the twister that left trees snapped like twigs.

“By the time we got to the basement of the dorm, the wind was rushing like a hurricane,” he wrote. “We saw three or four huge pines outside our dorms snap in two.”

Now, decades removed from the damage, McDaniel’s revived recollections have allowed him to reflect, understanding that even in people’s toughest moments the timeless trait of resilience will allow them to carry on.

“Just how resilient people are,” he said. “We were over there that night and we could hear chainsaws. We realized people were just already starting to clear the debris. They were helping their neighbors and just a few hours after that destruction. People were just already picking up the pieces.”

McDaniel said after the storm, he began journaling and enjoys detailing his daily life to look back on.

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