On June 2, 1990, a string of tornadoes ripped through the Ohio Valley. The storm devastated parts of Indiana and claimed the lives of several Hooisers.

Emergency preparedness is something we all hear a lot about, and for good reason. You never really know when disaster will strike. About a week ago, my wife and I were without power for about a day due to a big storm in Gibson County. Things got pretty bumpy, and we even saw a transformer burst into flames after it was struck by lightning. We made it through with minimal damage to our home, but it could have been a lot worse. In fact, there was one storm that occurred around this time over 30 years ago, that was significantly worse.

According to the National Weather Service (NWS), a large and widespread tornado outbreak occurred across parts of the Midwest and Ohio Valley on June 2, 1990. Through the early morning of June 3, the NWS notes that there were a total of 65 tornadoes, 37 of which occurred across Indiana. Some of those were determined to be an F4 on the Fujita scale, which can carry devastating wind gusts of up to 207–260 miles per hour (mph). The one-day tornado outbreak also set a record for being the largest number of tornadoes reported in one day across the Hoosier State.

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The outbreak marked the deadliest storm since 1974, claiming the lives of eight Hooisers. Six of those fatalities occurred in Petersburg, Indiana, which received an enormous amount of damage. My dad and longtime radio newsman, Dave Foster, was at Hornady Park in Petersburg that day. He was playing at a music festival when the storm struck. This is his account of the event:

On Saturday, June 2nd, 1990, I attended the Indiana State Picking and Fiddling Contest, which was held at the Pike County 4-H grounds at Hornady Park in Petersburg.

It was a sunny, windy day for the most part, with stage performances going on inside the small 4-H building and lots of jamming, practicing, visiting, and milling around outside the building. There were also several campers on site for the two-day event.

There were actually two tornadoes that day. I was standing on the north side of the block building talking with Joel Whittinghill, a well-known musician from Daviess County, Kentucky. We were standing just inside the threshold of an open door, near some registration tables.

The wind was picking up and people were looking to the west, but we had all just watched one storm pass a while earlier, which we learned later had been a tornado, but it did not cause any damage.

Joel and I were talking about his guitar, which he had just handed to me to look at. I strapped it on, and about that time, someone outside the door said, "Here it comes." I dove underneath the nearby 6-foot-long folding table and sat down cross-legged, holding onto the guitar. I was more concerned about damaging the expensive instrument than I was about the storm until I felt the strong wind coming through the door behind me, which someone was attempting to shut.

The door soon came off of its hinges and hit the concrete floor with a bang. I saw it and heard it slide by me along the floor and slam into the opposite wall near the door located directly across.

Then I felt more wind and the sting of dust and dirt hitting my back. I remember glimpses of people hanging onto walls, ducked in corners on the other end of the building, and someone nearby hollering out to Jesus and saying the Hail Mary prayer.

My father was ducked down beside me on one knee with his head down.

When the wind stopped, the 50 or 60 people in the building all seemed to be in shock, wondering if what just happened really did happen. When we all knew it was safe, we ventured out of safe spaces, and I gave the guitar back to Joel and told him I protected it the best I could (I was hanging on to it pretty tight).

My father, in typical Ted Foster fashion, looked at me, who, at 21, had never experienced a tornado, and grinned and said, "Now you can say you've lived through one."

No one was hurt where I was, other than some scratches. Some campers were turned upside down in the lot outside.

I went to check on my vehicle parked by the loop around the park and found a tree had fallen onto my 1982 Thunderbird with a sunroof that I had gotten only about a month before. I'd had several vehicles before, but that was the first one I said I loved. I've not loved a car or truck since. My guitar was in the car. I had tucked it on the back floorboard in its case an hour or so before, and there was some broken glass on the case, but the Martin D-35 was not damaged. I still have it.

Dad and I left a short time later to check on Mom. She had left earlier with some friends and was at a residence in Petersburg. Getting to her and finding out she was okay is a whole other story, but let's just say it was nerve-racking because there were no cell phones and we didn't know if she was safe.

A few days later, I went back to my job at the local hometown radio station, where some equipment was damaged and the 3K watt station was only broadcasting at a very low, distorted signal.

 

The tornado took out a lot that day, including the old Petersburg Elementary School, an apartment complex, a nursing home, and several businesses and homes. Growing up, I remember hearing my parents talk about it every year around this time, but it wasn't until I was much older that I understood the gravity of what happened. It's certainly an event that is burned into the minds of thousands of Hoosiers.

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