G.I. Remembers "Night of the Twisters" as Weather Warnings are Issued


Severe weather warnings came on a day known for tornadoes in Grand Island.

June 3, 1980 has become known as “The Night of the Twisters.”

"I'll never forget it," said Bill Lawrey.

Thirty-four years later, Bill and his wife Sandy remember the day they lost it all.

Sandy was at home, then 2621 Brahma Street, with their three children. When the house suffered damage, she went to investigate.

“I opened the front door. I don't know what I heard, but I ran and ran halfway down the stairs and jumped the rest of the way and the house just crashed in that second right behind me," she said.

Across town Bill had his own close call while working as a sheriff's deputy.

"In my rear view mirror I could see that wires, the high line along there sparking so things were really going to pot behind me," he said.

At home, his family was trapped.

"We could smell gas and the water was pouring in so we were standing in water, but we did have a telephone," said Sandy.

A fellow deputy dug them out and they got to safety despite being barefoot.

The children were two, nine and 11 years old at the time.

"It was just an absolute miracle -- nobody had a scratch on their foot," said Sandy.

Bill continued to look for survivors.

"It was quite a struggle getting though, downed power lines and debris on the roads," he said.

“The people that were searching our block couldn't find anything big enough to mark an 'X' on it that they had searched our house," said Sandy.

Seven tornadoes killed five people in the area. Bill found one of the bodies in his search.

The Lawreys say they learned a lesson in listening to weather warnings.

"That's probably the only time in my life that I ever paid attention to it, but something told me I should go back with the kids,” said Sandy. “Now I listen to it and go to the basement."

"We were lucky when you consider the immensity of that storm to have only five people [die]. It's amazing," said Bill.

Two hundred people were injured. The same number of houses were destroyed, while 60 businesses were a total loss.

It took the Lawreys five months to rebuild their home and a year to reopen their business. They said that was fairly quick compared to their neighbors.

Until then, they lived in a government-provided trailer on their lot.

“It was very eerie. No birds, no sounds, no nothing. I mean, they were all gone,” said Sandy.

Since then enhanced computer models and radars have given us a more accurate view of tornadoes and when and where they'll strike.

Grand Island’s Utility Department said they've also learned lessons from the 1980 tornadoes.

"We've got a lot of things different now. We've got multiple power plants. We have more than doubled our interconnections with other utilities," said Tim Luchsinger, director.

Simply said, that means there are more back-ups so power can be restored more quickly in a storm.