Harry's Story

Harry was my uncle and my inspiration for this site.

Harry Hayden was traveling on Western Avenue when he was caught in the tornado.
(...At one point, as I was flying through the air, I saw I was heading toward a chain-linked fence. I just knew I was going to be cut up into little diamonds... )

My co-worker and I were on our way home from work. We had just gone through a very intense rain and hail storm but were unaware of the approaching tornado. We had just crossed 69th street, heading west on Western Avenue when I notice, what I thought were blackbirds, flying around in front of us. I then realized it was debris. I looked to my left and saw a mass of black coming at us. My coworker immediately dove to the floor of the truck. At that moment it seemed to be the safest thing to do. I laid on top of him. Then, an instant later, I didn't feel as if that was going to offer me enough protection and I abandoned the truck.

My coworker survived, however was pinned in the cab of the truck because a large tree branch pierced through the back of the truck, continuing into the dashboard, scathing his back. I would have been impaled. Of course, I found this out later.

After I jumped from the truck, I ran north to a house just adjacent to us which were approximately three houses east of 72nd Street. I was looking for a deep window well to climb into. Older houses have deep window wells. Four houses down from me was an old house and I ran towards it. Just before I got to the third house down, I was picked up and whirred around in the air. Debris pelted my body as I slammed and bounced off of things. At one point, as I was flying through the air, I saw I was heading toward a chain-linked fence. I just knew I was going to be cut up into little diamonds. I ended up passing over it. I slammed against something and fell to the ground. I opened my eyes to find myself next to a house. I decided to duck down behind the basement wall and cement porch steps. As I hung onto the edge of the small window well, the wind roared as if I was standing next to a jet engine. A tree branch fell on me, knocking the wind out of me. The roar of the wind increased and suddenly, the tree branch blew away. My legs began lifting off the ground, pulling and vibrating. I was sure I was goner. Like a jet taking off at full throttle, all hell broke lose. I could hear only the intense wind.

Suddenly, the wind stopped and for a few seconds, there was no sound. I raised my head up and saw only the bare floors of the house I was holding onto. I stood up but immediately fell down. There was a small branch sticking out of my leg. I removed it and I started home, to 75th & Grant, not knowing if I still had a home. Then, I heard cries of children coming from the basement of the house next to the one I had been. I looked in a broken basement window and saw a mattress leaning against a wall with two children and their mother behind it. Not knowing that my leg was broken, but very much in pain, I broke the rest of window and lowered myself inside. I cleared the stairway and saw nothing but a bunk bed, fully made, covered with debris. Next to them was a closet full of clothes. Nothing else was standing.

I continued home while people asked me if I needed help. When I finally made it home, I was relieved to see that our house was untouched. But, there was debris, pictures, and papers from miles away, littering the yard. My mom and three sons saw me coming and rushed to help. I was covered with a smelly green sludge, a mixture of everything swirled and mulched in the winds. I took a shower and that's when I saw puncture wounds, abrasions and bruises all over my body. I decided to go to the hospital where they cleaned my sores and took an X-ray of my leg. The leg had been broken but now was set, maybe when I removed my boots. The doctor couldn't put a cast on because I had no skin from my left arm pit to where the top my boot had been. For over six months afterwards, I removed pieces of glass, grass, slivers of wood and other debris from my body as it surfaced. Now, when the sirens go off, I'm headed for shelter in my basement.

On the lighter side, my mother had always told me, as I was growing up, never to lose my lunchbox. Well, as it turns out, I had my lunchbox with me through the entire event. But, I left it at the house where I helped the two children and their mother.

From Scott, regarding being covered in a green sludge: I have heard others describe it as a pungent smell of pine tar and diesel fuel.

My Aunt Nona, Harry’s wife, said she had looked out the storm window as the tornado passed within a few blocks of the house, only to see a bulldozer-type tractor flying through the air.