On this day in Elkhart County's History 49 years ago (April 11th, 1965), the area was hit by what is today known as The Palm Sunday Tornadoes. On that day, a total of 47 tornadoes touched down across the Midwest stretching from central Iowa to central Ohio; on that day 271 people were killed, 1,500 were injured, houses and business were destroyed, and people had their lives turned upside down.
Elkhart County remembers this day, perhaps more than other communities, because out of the entire area that was effected, it was the hardest hit. Four tornadoes passed through the area that were rated as F-4's , which carried wind speeds of anywhere from 207-260 miles per hour. The day itself was unseasonably warm for April 11; it was sunny and peaceful throughout most of the day. Around 6:00 pm warnings went out across radios and televisions that bad weather was on the way and for people to seek shelter. It was about 15 minutes later that a tornado touched down near Wakarusa and traveled northwest, finally ending near Middlebury. In its path was the Midway Trailer Court, near Dunlap, which was completely destroyed. The storm not only destroyed numerous other properties, but took the lives of 14 people. After the tornado passed through, police officers, fire fighters, and many other people headed to the area to help sift through the wreckage for survivors probably still in shock in what they were seeing.
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Around a half hour later, as people were recovering whatever they could and getting help to victims, a second tornado ripped through the area. Many people ran for cover in ditches while the storm that touched down southeast of South Bend traveled for 37 miles through St. Joseph, Elkhart, and LaGrange Counties, where it stopped near Shipshewana. The area's hardest hit were the Sunnyside Subdivision near Dunlap and the Midway Restaurant that was at the intersection of U.S. 20 and IN 15. Both the subdivision and the restaurant were completely destroyed. After the storms subsided, over 60 people had been killed, countless others injured (newspaper reports of the time put the number injured over 300), 300 homes and 190 mobile homes were destroyed and many more buildings, farm land, and other properties had been damaged.
Here at the museum, many people ask us for information about the tornadoes and it remains one of our most requested topics. It is still something that people very much remember and think about today. The museum has held an annual event every Palm Sunday to commemorate that day and remember those who had died. With this year being the 49th anniversary, we want to collect what people remember about that day so that we can present their history next year for the 50th anniversary. We are asking for people who would like to have their memories preserved to attend this year's event, April 13th and 1:00pm, and they will have the opportunity to record their stories by giving their written statements to the museum. These written statements will serve as an important part of the Elkhart County's history for generations to come. They will not only be used for future museum programs and exhibits, but will serve as a valuable tool for researchers who want to find more information on what happened that day.