STORIES FROM 74: Super Outbreak rips through Louisville
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- It has been called Louisville's darkest day, a day of disaster and the most tragic day in Kentucky's history. For Louisville, on April 3, 1974, it all started at Freedom Hall.
WHAS Radio Traffic Reporter Dick Gilbert was flying above the city in a traffic chopper, and described the scene.
"Now the wind damage hit the roof of Freedom Hall and it tore three big holes in the roof then it moved on to the eastern end of the building and it ripped off about a third of the roof here. The horse barns are no more," Gilbert said.
Dave Reeves, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, was on duty that day.
"Someone yelled into where I was, 'Come look at this!'" Reeves recalled. "And I just took four or five steps and I could see out the front of the terminal building at Standiford Field. And I just saw a shaft over, a black shaft over Freedom Hall."
"It wasn't like the little small tornadoes that you would see. This thing was so huge," said Doug Keisker, lineman for South Central Bell.
The tornado tore across Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road.
"All those tall poles, 80-foot poles, every one of them were just snapped and were just lying across the road," Keisker said. "It looked like a war zone."
The twister ripped a path of destruction through Seneca and Cherokee parks, taking down every tree in sight.
Meanwhile in Crescent Hill, the Denker family was settling in for the night.
"I just remember how dark it became outside," Brian Denker said.
"It was huge, it was black. I don't remember it twisting or anything, I just remember seeing it and in the house I went and got mom," said Crescent Hill resident Trini Lunsford.
"I just yelled, 'get to the basement.' And so everybody ran," said Jean Denker.
"My grandparents and I just made it to the bottom of the steps and into the store room when it hit," Lunsford said.
"You can hear things moving around, things breaking. But you're in the store room, trying to stay alive," said Crescent Hill resident Kathy Bridwell. "Heard it, felt it, I mean the house was rumbling."
"Other victims say, they say you can hear that roar, and I definitely heard the roar," Brian Denker said. "It just sounded like a train, sitting on top the ceiling. I mean, just a huge wind tunnel, you could just feel it right on top you, and that's all you could hear, you couldn't hear anything else."
"Big sycamore tree in the yard next door fell on the house; which, when the tree fell, it blew out the walls, it blew out the windows, it made paint chips fall from the ceiling," Bridwell said.
The rampage continued into Indian Hills.
"I looked down the street and it was just total, complete devastation," said Indian Hills resident Gary Bockhorst. "It was probably, maybe about 400, 500-yard swath. But everything in that was just total destruction."
"The trees did an awful lot of damage. At the time I had these huge pen oak trees in the front yard, and about four or five of them hit the house," he said.
"My son at the time was here with his mother and to get out of the house they had to climb over some trees to get out a window."
His son, Gary Bockhorst Jr. said, "When we came back up from the basement, it took us a while to get out because there was so much debris."
"Literally, the basement door is on one end of the house and we actually had to crawl through stuff and we actually exited through this window here on the other end of the house."
"When we came up, I have such a visual memory of everything that was just destroyed," Lunsford said.
"I remember being so scared that you thought another tornado was going to come any minute," said Brian Denker, holding back tears.
"I just said 'don't cry,' I said 'we'll make it,'" Jean Denker said.
The Louisville tornado traveled 20 miles, from near the Fairgrounds to the east end.
That's where it lifted into western portions of Oldham County. Three people were killed there and more than 200 others hurt.
Some say if it wasn't for damage reports from Brandenburg and southern Indiana, the death toll could've been much higher.
"I always thought, kind of in my mind, that the people of Brandenburg paid the price and saved a lot of people in Louisville," Reeves said.
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