Like It Was Yesterday: 50 years since Belvidere tornado

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April 21, 2017
BELVIDERE, Ill. (WIFR) -- April 21, 1967 is a day the Belvidere community will never forget with many remembering exactly what they were doing and feeling on the day 50 years ago.

Members of the community gathered at Belvidere High school Friday afternoon to tell their stories of survival and remember the 24 people who died, seventeen of whom were children.

Connie Harris was 13 years old. She remembers getting on the bus to go home on a Friday afternoon. The air was sticky and moments later hail rained down the size of softballs. She says a lot of the day was a blur but she does remember the sheer terror, panic and confusion. Especially for a lot of parents who searched for hours to learn if their children were dead or alive.

Harris's story is like so many others who say the day is bittersweet as they swap stories of both tragedy and triumph from 50 years ago.

Jackie Krause was in junior high at the time of the tornado and was at Immanuel Lutheran School for her friend’s confirmation. She says she saw three tornadoes form into one and then was told to go down into the basement. Jackie’s home on Elm Drive in Belvidere was 60% damaged from the winds. It has since been repaired and now her mother and father live in the house that was hit all those years ago.

“So when you come back up, it's just...everything is like still, and you're looking around, and there's just so much debris and people crying and people running, and sirens going, and it was just... chaotic,” says Krause.

Krause said the strangest part was the fact that right before the tornado hit even the birds were completely silent.

Ronald Day was just 7 years old at the time of the tornado. He says the day is painful because it marks the 50th anniversary of his sister’s death. This is the first time he says he's told his story in public.

"My dad has never heard my story the loss of Cindy was more than he could deal with the fact they almost lost Mary and two feet of losing me their whole family could have been wiped out and that's the way he's always approached it,” says Day.


April 20, 2017

BELVIDERE, Ill. (WIFR) – A miracle is what doctors called Kim Richardson.

“They were saying I was the worst person hurt that lived,” says Richardson.

On April 21, 1967, Richardson was just a regular 10-year-old boy waiting in his friend’s grandma’s truck near Belvidere High School.

“We were just sitting the back talking and all I can remember is the car, starting to flip over,” recounts Richardson.

Richardson’s injuries were serious. His right arm was broken in two places and his elbow as shattered. His liver and spleen were torn.
“I was bleeding internally,” says Richardson.

The doctor told his family they weren’t sure if he’d survive.

“Supposedly I had 1 or 2 other kids in my same room and I don’t know. I think one or two of them didn’t make it,” says Richardson.

Later, his family received the bill. The doctor told Richardson’s parents it was already covered.

Though the Richardson’s house is back to normal, his body will never quite be the same. That’s why he found his own unique way to remember.

“So I figured, what the heck? I’m gonna do a tornado tattoo right in the middle of everything,” says Richardson.

Kim Richardson added a second tattoo on his right arm that is the Chinese symbol for “long life.”

On Friday, Belvidere will commemorate 50 years since the tornado beginning with a ceremony at 3:00 p.m. at Belvidere High School.


April 19, 2017

BELVIDERE, Ill. (WIFR) -- In 1967, the price of a gallon of milk was about 45 cents, and a gallon of gas was about 33 cents.

Though things were a lot different then, one Belvidere couple was ahead of the times, sharing with us some of the only known color video of a day they'll never forget.

The color video, shot on a Kodak Cine Scopemeter Camera Turret, captures many locations that have since been rebuilt, as well as others that look entirely different.


April 18, 2017

BELVIDERE, Ill. (WIFR) -- As we close in on the last few days before the 50th anniversary of the Belvidere tornado, even the youngest survivors are telling their stories.

Jeff Spradling was two and a half and too young to remember the day and the devastation. To mark the 40th anniversary, the community was asked to come up with ideas for a memorial. Spradling came up for the design for a sculpture in only a few hours. The sculpture is comprised of 25 loops - 24 for those who died and an extra loop on top for everyone affected by the devastation.

"It's actually interesting that it took 40 years to have something put in place. I mean obviously people could do their own thing on the anniversary date or whatever, but I just... I think it helps people to have a location that signifies what took place that day," says Spradling.

The project is estimated to have cost around $80,000.

Posted: April 17, 2017

BELVIDERE (WIFR) -- We're closing in on the 50 year anniversary of the deadly Belvidere tornado that cost the lives of 24 people and injured 500.

What now looks like a quiet high school was once flattened in a matter of minutes after an EF-4 tornado tore through Belvidere in 1967. Traveling nearly 30 miles, killing 24 people, and injuring 500, those winds devastated the lives of many.

Jim Rush and Jeff Berg were among the survivors.

"I remember thinking it was just another day, but I remember thinking it was extremely warm. Just a beautiful summer day, even though it was April,” says Jeff, who was on the same school bus as Jim, waiting to be driven home.

Their bus driver then told them to get off the bus and find shelter, but it was too late to make it very far.

"By the time we were out of the bus and headed towards the school, it was there," said Rush, who recalls the winds being so strong that his arms were forced behind him.

Berg said he had a piece of wood lodged into his eye, multiple lacerations, and other cuts and bruises. Rush had several broken ribs.

However, those injuries were nothing in comparison to the devastation they witnessed around them. 13 of the students on the Caledonia bus with Rush and Berg died in the tornado.

“I covered my head, and something hit me really hard, and I think I passed out because when I woke up, it was deadly quiet except for people moaning and stuff, and everything was nothing but mud," says Rush, who went into the battered school to hide for a while before being found by family members.

The two say the years have helped them recover, but they are nowhere near forgetting the sound of those winds.

"It's not as bad, but for 30 years afterwards, any time there was a storm or just a windy day, it would drive you nuts," says Berg.