Thursday, April 3, 2014

A Look Back at the 1974 Tornado Response

Photo Courtesy of Capital City Museum

Former Red Cross employee Pat Badgett (left) surveys the damage at Mitchell’s Trailer Park in Western Franklin County Kentucky following an April 3, 1974 tornado. Pat’s mother lived in the park, but was luckily not at home when the tornado hit. Pat was also a longtime Red Cross board member and continues to volunteer with the Franklin County Chapter.

Several communities are hosting memorials today to mark the 40th Anniversary of the 1974 tornado outbreak, so I thought I would take a look through our chapter archives to learn how the Red Cross responded four decades ago. One of the hardest hit areas on April 3, 1974, was right here in the Commonwealth. A total of 85 deaths were recorded for Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

The Red Cross was there during the following days, weeks and months to provide emergency assistance in the areas where folks needed help the most. Six shelters were opened to accommodate displaced families. More than 400 people sought refuge there during the first days of the relief operation. By April 8, all Red Cross shelters were closed. Even though hundreds of families were still without a home, their family, friends and neighbors opened their doors to offer shelter and comfort.

The Red Cross opened one fixed site to serve food and operated six mobile units, feeding approximately 3,200 people around the clock, including affected families, National Guardsmen and emergency workers. We also set up a babysitting service for families cleaning up and collecting what was left of their homes.
Jefferson Co. Indiana volunteer Paul Steinhardt
But it wasn’t just the disaster department working to support relief efforts. Every single branch of the Red Cross played a part. Three mobile first aid units monitored affected areas at all times. Service to Military Families helped locate families for frantic relatives. More than 1,500 blood donors answered the call for blood in the week following the tornado outbreak.

As I read through old chapter meeting minutes, the familiar names of key community groups were frequently mentioned including Salvation Army, National Guard, Kentucky Baptist Convention and our longtime partner, the United Way. It was then as it is today, an “all hands on deck” operation inside and outside the organization. By the close of the operation, we had served 2,900 families in our region alone and we couldn’t have done it without our volunteers, donors and partners.

As we enter severe storm season, remember to create or review your family disaster plan. You can also download free Red Cross preparedness apps on floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, wildfires and hurricanes. Visit for more information.