Cindy's Story - See Cindy's Photos
I met Cindy via email after her Brother-In-Law, Bill Gottcsh, forwarded my email address to her. She has contributed a great deal of family photos from the event.
(Mau) Gottsch was in 8th grade at the time of the tornado.
Here is what I remember about that day in May.
It seemed like a very normal and typical day in May. My sisters and I had walked to school that morning as we did everyday. The school was just next to the park on the south side of Blondo at 69th. My mom was off work that day. Normally she would be at work till about 5:30 pm and my dad until about 6:00pm. My sisters and I were usually home alone. I remember that at 4:00pm things started to get really odd looking outside and my mom started acting kind of scared. It was not my mom’s nature to be scared, especially of the weather. After living in Nebraska all of our lives, we kind of took tornados for granted. I remember my mom listening to the radio and she was on and off the phone with my dad and grandma. I can even remember the smallest details of that time. My youngest sister Kristi was making candles and stirring the wax over the stove. I had just made macaroni and cheese and my other 2 sisters were watching TV. My mom kept going to the front door and looking at the sky. Things were starting to get very eerie outside. Finally my mom said, "Girls, grab your shoes and let’s go downstairs. The weather is getting bad." My sisters and I didn't want to go down stairs. We thought, “Here we go again, another tornado season!” Finally we decided to go to the basement. I, being a 13 year-old at the time, told my mom that I was going to go upstairs and get my homework. I was really just being defiant and did not want to stay downstairs. I walked upstairs and I will never forget what I saw. The house was scary! The sky was green, grey, and black. The wind started blowing. Our house had a color of grey and green. I was humbled. I didn’t even get my books. I ran down stairs as fast as I could, not knowing that that would be the last time I would see our house. I was not down stairs more that 5 minutes and my mom went to look out the garage windows. She ran back yelling, ''GET DOWN, GIRLS! EVERYONE GET DOWN! THINGS ARE FLYING OUTSIDE!" My 3 sisters were in the south west corner of the room and they grabbed a sleeping bag and huddled up in the corner. My mom, the dog and I were behind them. I don’t know how I did this but I grabbed a heavy mattress that was on the bed next to us and I pulled it over the dog, myself and my mom. I didn't get it pulled over fast enough and I did not get my mom totally covered.
Then it hit.
The noise was horrible. It was so loud. All I could hear was slamming, glass breaking, and things banging together. It was such a loud and destructive sound. I laid there thinking that when this is over one of us might not be a live. I was terrified. I don’t know what made me look out from the mattress, but, when I peeked out, I witnessed our house being pulled off the foundation, lifting off into the sky… a vision that I will never forget. I put my head back down and held onto the mattress for dear life. My youngest sister (Kristi, 2nd grade) started to get sucked out. My oldest sister (Cheryl, 9th grade) wrapped her legs around Kristi and held her down. It seemed like things were lasting forever.
Finally it was quiet. We looked out and we could hardly believe what we saw. There was a car over us. The front tires were resting on top of the basement foundation and the back tires were on the floor of our basement… literally on top of us. My mom had been hit in the head by the car as it came down on us. She was laying there quiet and bloody. My sisters and I just started screaming and yelling for help. Soon our neighbor (Jim Donner) came running over. He could hardly get to us. He had to climb over debris to reach us and pull us out. The National Guard was already out on the street by this time. They came to help my mom who had regained consciousness from the car dripping gasoline onto her face. After we came out from under the car and made our way out onto the street, the National Guard transported us to the hospital. My mom’s head was cut pretty bad and two of my sisters had cuts on their feet because they did not put their shoes on as my mom had asked.
As we were making our way to the hospital, my dad had heard on the radio that the tornado had hit 72nd and Blondo. He tried calling our house but was obviously unable to get through. My dad left work at the Omaha National Bank downtown and tried to get home. He was only able to drive so far before he had to abandon the car and start on foot. He ran about 4 blocks only to find his home and family were nowhere in sight. My dad asked one of the neighbors where we were and the neighbor told him that we had been taken to the hospital. My dad was terrified. He had no idea if anyone one of us were dead or alive. My dad went to 2 hospitals before he found us. It was quiet a reunion when he found us all alive and basically well. Something changed in my dad that day and I don’t think he was ever the same.
My mom had to have 44 stitches for her head wound and had a concussion. I have never seen a hospital like it was that night. There were people everywhere. They were standing throughout the halls, some bleeding, and some crying. Some being wheeled down the halls and some were being treated in the waiting rooms. The hospital staff was in Disaster Alert mode. I was very impressed by their professionalism and calmness they displayed.
That night, after we left the hospital, we went to stay at my grandma’s apartment at 74th and Blondo. Thank God her building was not destroyed. The apartment was quiet small but we were just happy to all be together. Before we went to bed, my dad decided that he would go over to the house and see if there was anything that he could save. There was still a little day light left, so he walked about 4 blocks from my grandma’s to our house. There was virtually nothing left to save. As he was walking among the piles of rubble and debris in the back of the house, he came across a dead body. It was an elderly lady whom lived behind us and up the street about 4 or 5 houses. Her name was Mrs. Baker. She was a deaf lady and had no idea that the tornado sirens were sounding. Over the course of the next week or two, as we cleaned up everything in our back yard, we found Mrs. Baker’s clothes and many of her belongings. We even found her false teeth.
In the midst of all of this, my parents knew that they needed to find a place for us to live. My grandma's apartment was simply too small for 7 extra people and a dog. They ended up getting a town house in West Omaha. As we moved in the town house, we took a mattress, blankets, and a radio to the basement just in case we would ever need them.
In case you didn’t know, May through June is High Tornado season in Nebraska. We had just witnessed it first hand. It was now the middle of May and my parents were both working full time while my sisters and I were out for summer vacation. Something that I never notice until then, is there is almost always a cloud in the sky. That summer, my sisters and I were so scared, that our entire existence depended on the sky. My oldest sister (Cheryl) was constantly vomiting and could hardly keep anything down. She was loosing weight rapidly and getting very sick. We sat in our town house all day long listening to the radio and watching the sky. One day Cheryl was getting sick because the sky was cloudy. This particular day, the wind had picked up a little bit, as it usually does in Nebraska, and we went to the basement. We all huddled in the corner. There weren’t even any watches or warnings being issued. As we sat in the corner, scared to death that a tornado was going to come again, the pipes broke over our heads. Water started coming down on us and my sisters and I started screaming hysterically. We were terrified. It seemed as if things like this happened all summer. One day the tornado sirens had sounded, meaning a tornado warning had been issued. We lost control of ourselves and we went running, banging, from door to door, begging people to let us in. We finally found a lady home that let us all in as she could tell that we were very scared. The funny thing about it was she wasn't. I can't believe this is how we use to be.
We lived in the town house for 3 months until our house was finished being rebuilt. We were all so happy to be back. The neighborhood looked much different now, but all of the neighbors had rebuilt except one. We eventually did get back to our regular routine and started living again. We do have much more respect for Tornados, but we don’t let the weather control our lives like we did the summer of ‘75.