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Jeremy Kappell
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Stories from '74: Brandenburg Mayor David Pace

Brandenburg Mayor David Pace was a high school student and a volunteer fire fighter on April 3, 1974. He recalls his memories of taking shelter downtown and helping to get people to safety as the town was pulverized by the historic F5 tornado.

For that or yeah. Thank you for your service by the way. You know you didn't want to. It's interesting that certain dates just. Alright. Let's make Mr. Mayor. Um. Back to the morning of April 3rd, 1974. What do you remember? Do you remember? Is there anything different weather wise that day? You know I had to get up and go to school. Then I could just the normal day, kind of overcast day and things like that. Sun popped out. Just got one school let out at 3:00, just like normal. 01:12 

I happen to be a volunteer firefighter. It's for Meade County, and we just happen to stop at the Firehouse. And we were there and the city Superintendent stopped by and told us that there was a tornado they were tracking, but it looked like it was going to go around. I guess this, I guess the western side of Brandenburg. So we didn't think much about it and just kind of hung out in the Firehouse just waiting to see what was going to happen if we had to do anything. And one of the guys that was on the fire department with us walked to the doorway, looked at it it looked like a blank wall coming right down the street, so. He hollered. We ran out went to next door was City Hall. I think that was my payback, that we went next door, kicked the basement door in and never forget that I'll be. Clean this up for what he really said. But he said Marie Johnson's gonna kick our tail, but luckily we were in that basement and that saved our lives, to be honest. So everything around us was completely destroyed. So the house we were in collapsed and it was just the miracle.

OK, that was a lot. So let's go back. You're at the Firehouse. First of all, you're Senior High School. I'm sorry. You're a senior in high school And then Volunteering at the fire department just happened to be there, so describe where the. Where did the fire station was and where you took shelter? Again, this location actually right on High Street in Brandenburg, just just two blocks from where we are right now and actually say all this rebel office there and I guess that's what I'm paying back to the city for tearing their door up being mayor, now second term.

Describe the tornado. What did you see? What did you remember? What did you hear? What did you feel? 03:11 I was kind of like Tony and Amanda, both with me. We didn't know what a tornado really meant, to be honest. I mean 18 years old. I didn't care about the weather a lot. But you know, we just ran, ran next door. The four of us, 03:27 we could hear stuff, starting to hit the building and we started hearing people upstairs to the in the City Hall. So we were able to help them get from upstairs to the basement and I guess that kind of kept us busy as the first part and it got so loud and dust falling through the floors and then just the windows you could hear everything breaking and then total silence for it seemed like. Forever. But we were in the eye. We assumed that's what it was.

We thought, knowing enough about it. But I guess I paid a little attention in school to understand that part. But it was a 04:03 we just waited. And then the back part of the storm really was what tore everything up. But to us, it was the backlash that tore that house twisted it completely two-story house spun it completely on the foundation and just dropped most of it in the back corners and luckily the way the doorway we were going to get out is was was saved where we could get out and we walked out and.. It wasn’t anything (like) when we went in there. All the buildings were 4 foot tall.  And people were injured and luckily, thank goodness, the electricity was knocked out before, or even more people because all the wires and stuff, you were just walking on everything. You didn't know what to do. Everybody was in shock. There were people with no clothes on. So they were injured and we tried to help them and I got them my parents home, which is a mile from the heart of Brandenburg. They were sitting in the house. Didn't know a thing had happened, so it's how quickly it went through.

OK. Let's go back to you were taking shelter and I went to slow down right here when that tornado was occurring. With this much details possible what you were hearing. What you were seeing and what you were feeling? Well, the first part that was the stuff the the wind like it got the blowing so hard you could hear this stuff crashing against the house. You just didn't know what it was. Being in the basement the windows were were there. It was tall enough he couldn't see out very well, but. It just that stuff started getting so dark that and then kind of like this. I never really thought it was sounded like a train but we were pretty busy at that time trying to help those other folks to get to the basement and it it it was pretty you know loud you could hear those people were screaming trying to get downstairs and. That stuff, you know, you live with forever. So it was it was a thing you never forget, so yeah. So when you got out, you said the door was OK so you could exit. And you saw what had happened to your town.

What was going through your mind and what were you feeling? Ohh. I had wondered what I personally think about your family. I mean, I thought, what the world? We live near the river. So I thought, well, my family's in the river or just didn't know what to do. So my vehicle was totaled right there at the Firehouse. It was pieces. All the windows broke out of it. Just. Torn up to a million pieces and so I ran up to the high school where I found some friends that actually took me home. When you got closer, you could see it was(n’t) anything so then my parents and I, we came back to find family members like Amanda.. different ones. And the family that I was kind of raised with, with the Duncans who lived downtown. And we we just hunted for everybody we knew. And it was something you never forget what you saw. So

 yeah, no doubt. Well. What did you see? What do you remember from the days that followed? Um. The memorial at the high school all the clean up in between and after. What do you remember? 07:34 the hardest part was seeing, I think the freezer trucks at the old ballpark and you know it's just so many people came together to try to make it better. We had an old pickup truck that was a just an old truck and it ran. We every day we help somebody. Trying to get their stuff that they could save and they don't truck. I remember the last day we had the last person we thought we were helping the clutch and everything went out and I think it knew we were doing it. So it was kind of a it was a long couple of weeks to helping people trying to salvage what they owned.

You mentioned the freezer truck. That became the morgues. So. And then what were you? What? I mean, as an 18 year old, you probably hadn't experienced death or you hadn't seen death that close. What type of an impact did that have? 08:27 Well it’s lasting (I’m pretty sure). I tease about this. I became a meteorologist after that. Never had any training. I'm the one that stays up, the family goes to bed and I warn everybody storms coming. So it's been, uh, something you never get over so well as the mayor Brandenburg today you still have kind of that responsibility to look after your flock. We're standing here in a pretty state-of-the-art emergency operations center. Is this town ready? For the next one? 09:00 I think we're so we've come so far and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a gentleman by the name of Ron Dodson indicated his life to this community for you he never wanted people to be not prepared and he did a great job of trying to get us the equipment we needed the. He really, you know, and he struggled with his eyesight, things like that, but they never deterred him from being on top of stuff he would call. You better be watching for this with me working at the electric coop. He would give me heads up after that, back when I went there and he was just a friendship and bond that. Help the community today we did a test yesterday on all our sirens and for the tornado warnings and unfortunately had two that did not work and so they've just been moved recently and reinstalled so hopefully they were fixed last night that so that you never want anybody else to not be prepared so.

Absolutely. Um. Looking back at that event, how it changed your life or how it changed the community life? Well, 10:10 I still think of the family members that have never gotten over it. You know, they lost loved ones and started trying to think of people to help them for you to be able to interview and it really is kind of sad the number of people that it took to make the Brandenburg come back and Meade County. It's not just the city. It was a long stretch and you know its just a lot of those all those folks aren't here any longer. So we try to pass that knowledge on to the younger folks that are my children. Some of them they, they just don't realize that they see pictures of Maysville, different communities that are hit by the tornadoes and say man that’s bad. Well, that was here, you know, you just don't realize. What we went through to make Brandenburg back where it is today, we were stymied for awhile because of the damage that was here. And you know, one of my jobs are recruiting companies. I don’t ever mention 1974 to them very often. You know it's just something that hopefully my first.. jump back a little bit I was mayor in 2007, 14 days in the office had a tornado and Brandenburg where everybody wanted to compare that to 1973 and it wouldn't drop in the bucket to what that was and that, but we were better prepared think that's we did see that the people, the technology and cell phones today, can tell you anything. And hopefully those warnings will keep people alive in the future.

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for keeping this alive, too, by the way. Oh, you're very welcome. Any final thoughts there, Mayor? Thanks for doing it. But hopefully we don't ever have it again. That would be the best thing ever happened. So. Absolutely. Thank you. Thanks David. Appreciate. Nice job.

 

Jeremy Kappell

Meteorologist, Journalist, Writer, Speaker, Broadcaster

 

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