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  • Chad Hobbs

April 3, 1974 — a day that has lived on in infamy for Meade County

April 3, 1974 started much like every other day before or since here in Meade County. The birds chirped, the sun shined and many men, women and children headed off for work or school, oblivious to the monster that would soon be unleashed.

Around mid-afternoon, that all began to change. The animals were the first to give clues that something was amiss. Dogs that never wanted to come in suddenly set at backdoors whimpering to be inside, cattle in the fields began to act a little "weird", and then the birds stopped chirping. There were no storms prior, heralding what was coming; only hail signaled the hell that was about to be unleashed as the sky turned the most peculiar color of green anyone had ever seen. A silence fell over the county right before a storm emerged on the horizon and soon "the roar of a freight train" pierced the air. Meade County was oblivious to the F3 tornado that touched down in McQuady in Breckinridge County which was marching its way.

The tornado would make its way to Irvington and cross into Meade County, following HWY 79 on a collision course with the county seat of Brandenburg, a town of about 1,500 people back then. But it was hungry to be more than an F3 and would continue to build energy along the way. By the time it reached Brandenburg around 4 p.m., the beast had grown into an F5 tornado that was five football fields wide with winds in excess of 250 miles per hour. It is the only F5 to ever hit Kentucky, and it would leave a path of death and destruction that still haunts many in Meade County, 50 years later.

Though the beast was only in Brandenburg for about five minutes and only took about 30 minutes to cross the land from McQuady to it, the destruction it left behind would take decades to rebuild from and leave scars on the land and its people that can still be found to this day. In its wake that day, there were 31 lives lost in Meade County (28 from Brandenburg), over 300 people injured, 30 buildings leveled, and 128 destroyed homes. Furthermore, in a time long before cell phones and instant information, the county's emergency response infrastructure was completely destroyed. The tornado destroyed the county courthouse, city hall, the fire station, the police station, funeral homes (hearses were used as ambulances at that time), the electric company and the radio station. Leaders had nowhere to meet, emergency responders had no vehicles or equipment to work with, the only way to instantly communicate with the community — the radio — was leveled, and there was no power because not only were RECC's poles snapped but their headquarters was destroyed.

Despite this destruction, Meade Countians would rise from that destruction and come together in an epic display of compassion and resilience. They would mourn together but also work together to not only rebuild the community but also try and heal in the aftermath of that tragic day of April 3, 1974.

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