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Beulah - Hamilton, Ohio
Devastating Tornado Rips Through Topeka, Kansas
On the evening of June 8, 1966, I was scheduled for a civil service examination at the Jackson state office building on the corner of Seventh and Harrison Streets, across the street from the northwest corner of the State Capitol grounds.
My husband, George, and I heard the sirens wailing, warning us of a possible tornado coming, but we had heard the sirens on other occasions, and nothing had happened, so we went ahead and left for my appointment. When we got there, we parked on the west side of the Capitol grounds, in front of the rear entrance of the church on Harrison Street. It began to pour, so my husband suggested I wait in the car until the siege was over.
The eye of the storm
Soon, we heard the sound of breaking glass and wood frames, and we saw debris flying in the air. We knew at that moment that we were in the direct path of the tornado, which was coming up Harrison Street heading toward 10th Street. As we looked directly into the eye of the tornado, it was like watching a huge basketball bouncing up Harrison Street toward us, very white inside a whirling cylinder-shaped cone.
George decided to move the car across the street in an effort to get us out of the danger of falling trees. Moving the car was like crossing a stream. The car actually bucked as we moved across the street.
We watched as the tornado came up on Harrison Street and turned a perfect right onto 10th Street going toward Kansas Avenue. As we watched, the copper sheeting was ripped off the State Capitol building.
When the danger had passed, and we deemed it safe, we ventured out onto 10th Avenue to see the ruins. The windows had all been blown out of the tall National Life Insurance building. The pool hall next to it was demolished, its roof collapsed, and a man was trapped under the debris of a pool table. In no time, people began to appear from nowhere, and everyone started doing whatever they could to help.
All in all, the F5 tornado that day took 16 lives and injured more than 500 people. It was a half-mile wide at times and affected some 22 miles throughout the city. It was reported that more than 800 homes were destroyed and 3,000 more damaged as entire blocks were leveled. The Capitol Dome and many other downtown buildings were damaged, and every building on the Washburn University campus was damaged to some degree. Many were completely destroyed.
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