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Dunlap photographer recalls '65 Palm Sunday tornadoes

April 06, 2010|By Alyssa Rossomme (arossomme@wsbt.com)
  • Paul Huffman caught this image of twin twisters that hit Dunlap in 1965.
Paul Huffman caught this image of twin twisters that hit Dunlap in 1965.

DUNLAP — April 11 marks the 45th anniversary of a killer storm so devastating it brought President Lyndon Johnson to our area. During the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado outbreak 47 twisters hit the Midwest. It was the second largest outbreak on record, and the deadliest in Indiana. The tornadoes claimed the lives of 271 people and injured hundreds more. Elkhart Truth photographer Paul Huffman, of Dunlap, captured the scene on film, snapping a matchless image of twin twisters that hit Dunlap. “I never knew I had a double, twin tornado until I went back to the office,” Huffman recalled. Newspapers across the states snagged the snapshot. The photo earned Huffman notoriety and honors. “It was pretty exciting,” said his wife, Betty Huffman. “I was excited and pleased that I got something like that, that nobody else had ever got,” Paul said. Huffman was always looking for something different when he was out taking pictures. They found an extraordinary scene on the way home from church that Palm Sunday. “She looked off into the west and said, ‘Look at that column of smoke. Somebody’s got a fire,’” Paul recounted. “I looked over and said, ‘That’s not smoke.’ That’s what I was looking for. It was the starting of a tornado.” The Huffmans stopped their car along the railroad tracks, and he snapped away as the storm approached. “She was in the car. She was hollering at me, ‘Let's get out of here! Let's get home!’” Paul said. “I was a nervous wreck,” Betty remembered. “I wasn't so afraid for myself, but he was standing out in front of the car, and his clothes are blowing, and he's hanging on, kind of, to the car to keep steady.” They didn’t leave right away. Instead, they witnessed the tornado destroying Midway trailer court. As Huffman captured images of the aftermath, he saw another tornado wipe out the neighborhood of Sunnyside. “It was practically demolished, nothing left. Houses were gone, people were injured,” Paul said. Betty said the community banded together to help neighbors in need. “Made you think, ‘I'm so lucky, at least my house is still standing,’” she commented. Huffman was behind the lens for days, and the clean-up continued for months. Photographs like those Huffman shot give future generations a glimpse of nature's force. For those who lived through it 45 years ago, images of the disaster are forever printed in their minds. “It's something you really don't forget,” Betty said. A commemorative service will be held on Sunday April 11 at 3:30 p.m. to honor those who lost their lives. It will be at the Palm Sunday Tornado Memorial, located on the corner of County Road 45 and Cole Street in Dunlap.

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