Residents of Charles City paused Tuesday to remember the 50th anniversary of the tornado that tore through the town, killing 13 people and injuring 462.
Duane Lynch owned a gas station downtown and says he saw the top floor of the hotel across the street blown off, He sought shelter in the washroom of the station along with his father-in-law and held onto the sink and closed his eyes. “The wind blew so hard and it go black and you couldn’t see anything. And then in a matter of seconds it just got quiet,” Lynch says. “So I opened my eyes up and the whole back of my station was gone.” He says things looked like they had been sandblasted and he could hear people screaming.
Lynch says he didn’t know what to do, so he headed for the edge of town to see if his mom and dad were okay. “And I ran through all that debris and everything, and the farther I went it got better. And I ran clear to their house — which would be about a mile away — and I walked in and I said ‘are you guys alright?’ And they thought I was crazy. I said ‘a tornado hit Charles City, my station is gone’,” Lynch says.
Lynch talked about his thoughts during a program on KCHA Radio in Charles City. Jim Barker worked at the station and headed out and he and another man got a generator running at the tower site and got them back on the air. This is a recording of one of his reports.
“Charles City was hit by a tornado. A tornado touched down approximately 4:45, 4;50 in that area…. most of the downtown area was hit and virtually demolished,” he said in the report. Barker says he continued broadcasting and ended up alone in the dark at the tower site broadcasting. He kept telling everyone what he saw and then relayed information that trickled in from town.
“They would leave information at the gas station and we would have runners sending bits of paper or whatever to us. And that is how we got our information — we didn’t have any type walkie-talkies or things like that — it was just what people left for us,” Lynch explains.
The Floyd County Historical Society now has an exhibit on the tornado. That exhibit includes some of those scraps of information that Lynch relayed to listeners, as well as some recordings of the broadcasts by the station.
(By Chris Berg, KCHA, Charles City)