Thirty-five years ago on April 26 at 8:35 pm, an F3 tornado touched down in St. Anthony Village. It hit suddenly. The sky went from light to immediately dark as if someone had turned off a light switch. Because it originated in St. Anthony, no warning was sounded. Those who were home that night said they will never forget the fearsome train-like sound of the high winds.
In 2018, the St. Anthony Historical Society asked Gail Olson write a book about the tornado, She had written about the storm previously in her 2011 book, A Village in the City. The new book deals with residents’ experiences and recovery.
Monday, April 22, Olson gave a presentation about her new book at the St. Anthony Library. The title, Hit the Deck and Pray, was a quote from then five-year-old Eric Brever, son of Bonnie and Tom Brever, as the storm was hitting and they were going for cover.
The St. Anthony tornado, originating near the southwest corner of St. Anthony, produced winds of 150 to 200 mph. The area hit was a quarter-mile wide and two miles long, leaving one person dead and 53 injured. It damaged 150 houses, destroyed 13 and left 33 uninhabitable. Three of St. Anthony’s four churches, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic, Faith United Methodist, and Nativity Lutheran were also badly damaged.
The National Guard was deployed for several days to stand at the intersections to protect the area from looters. Residents were given passes to get in and out of their homes. Hundreds of people came to help including the Police and Fire departments, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross as well as many residents.
Olson told a few of the stories in the book. One unusual story concerned Vincent Ella, who lived at 3300 Belden Drive. He had just driven his car into his garage when the tornado lifted the garage right off of him and took it away. He was covered in glass, but not badly hurt. He had trouble hearing after that the incident. When checked by a doctor, they found pink insulation impacted in his ears.
Rick and Bernie Johnson came home from Florida when notified about the tornado. They found both their house and greenhouse were destroyed and their dog was missing. The dog was found a few days later. They had just built their house at 3306 Belden in the ’70s when it was burned down by an arsonist who had been destroying houses in the Northeast area. They rebuilt it. Then the tornado destroyed it. They decided to build their third house out of brick, because the brick houses in the neighborhood hadn’t fallen down in the tornado. Bernie told Olson, “It was like the Three Little Pigs. And, when you build your house three times, you finally get it right.”
Apache Plaza, on Silver Lake Road, was one of the first shopping malls built in the metro area. It suffered a lot of damage from the tornado. Several businesses in the mall closed. It never totally recovered and finally closed and was demolished in 2004.
Hit the Deck and Pray can be purchased at St. Anthony City Hall or St. Anthony Community Services for $25.
Below: Gail Olson showing tornado track through St. Anthony. (Photo by Carol Jensen)