Forty years ago today, the weather was a little humid but not hot. The forecast called for a slight chance of thunderstorms — 20 percent. It was a typical June day.
But that night was anything but typical.
At about 8:45 p.m. on June 3, 1980, a tornado started to form in northwest Grand Island. That wouldn’t be the only one. During the next several hours more twisters would join it.
During that night of terror, experts say seven tornadoes struck Grand Island, leaving destruction throughout the city. The South Locust Street area was nearly wiped out.
The storm killed five people, injured 266 and caused more than $200 million in property damage as hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses were damaged.
Grand Island looked like a war zone on the morning of June 4, 1980.
However, there was more to the city than a path of destruction. The spirit of the residents and their neighbors quickly shone bright.
Residents quickly began picking up the pieces and cleaning up the rubble. Others from area communities and throughout the state came to help.
The twisters didn’t keep Grand Island down for long. Homes and businesses rebuilt and the city came back stronger than ever.
The cooperation was tremendous. Business people along South Locust Street and city officials worked together to create a coherent theme and design down the street. South Locust has come back strong thanks to the rebuilding and cooperation. Also helping were a new South Locust Street exit off of Interstate 80 and the building of the Heartland Events Center and the move of the Nebraska State Fair to Fonner Park.
The spirit and resiliency of Grand Island was tremendous. One of the worst tornado outbreaks ever seen couldn’t keep the city down.
That resiliency is being put to the test again with the COVID-19 outbreak. Hall County has had 1,533 cases of the virus, the third most of counties in Nebraska. Grand Island has followed the trend of cities with meatpacking plants being hit hard by the virus.
Many businesses have been shut down for more than two months. Many people have lost their jobs or income, at least temporarily. Grand Island has seen many major events canceled because of the coronavirus.
Once again, Grand Island must recover and rebound just like it did after the 1980 tornado. Once again, residents must work together to fight the virus.
There are signs of hope. The number of new cases has slowed. The number of COVID-19 admissions to the hospital has dwindled.
And many businesses that had been closed were allowed to reopen on a limited basis on Monday. Hair salons, gyms and dine-in restaurants can now be open with restrictions on the number of people allowed at one time.
Just as in 1980, Grand Island is being challenged — and it is up to meeting the challenge. It is 40 years later, but if Grand Island could recover from seven tornadoes and $200 million in damage, it can recover from the coronavirus too.
Again it will take cooperation between businesses and government and work and sacrifices by residents. Grand Island, though, is ready to meet the challenge and get back on the road to recovery.