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50 Years Ago Today: Tornado destroys town of Hamburg 

Updated: Apr 3

April 3, 1974

Courtesy: National Weather Service

(HAMBURG, Ind.) — It was on this date 50 years ago that a tornado claimed multiple lives and left a trail of destruction in Decatur and Franklin counties.

The twister on April 3, 1974 was part of the Super Outbreak that produced more than 140 confirmed tornadoes in 13 states. 

The storms were moving through the area about the same time school was being dismissed at Batesville High School. 

Ron Weigel was a student at the time and found shelter in the school library. 

“There were no windows in the library and the lights went out. It was so dark in there. I finally made it out of the library and several of my friends said they saw the tornado,” Weigel recalled. 

Some students said it looked like the twister was heading right toward the school before it veered away. 

The tornado would later travel into rural Franklin County and directly hit Hamburg, destroying nearly 90 percent of the town and claiming the lives of a pregnant woman and her 3-year-old daughter. 

Ron, who is part of the Weigel Funeral Home family, recalls going to Hamburg that day to help his uncle assist in rescue operations. 

“He said anybody with a vehicle was asked to make their way to Hamburg,” said Ron.  

Weigel remembers what he saw when he made the final turn into Hamburg.

“It was devastating. The electric towers were crumbled up and lying down. Buildings were gone, the church was gone,” he said. 

These photos show the destruction in Hamburg on April 3, 1974. Provided by CJ Lewis:

Bernie Meyer is a lifelong Hamburg resident who was 10-years-old at the time. He was at school in Oldenburg when the tornado struck and first saw the damage on the school bus ride home.

His father witnessed the moment the twister struck the church. 

“He said the sky lit up in red, from all the bricks,” Bernie said. ”There was also a truck from across the road that was dropped on top of the church from the tornado.”

Inside the church at the time of the tornado, was a priest named Father Thomas Lyons. 

Lyons was buried in the rubble and had to free himself out of it. The priest then removed a tabernacle from the church and took it to Ron Weigel’s grandmother’s house. 

“I guess it was that strength you get from pure adrenaline. He was carrying it under his arm down the road and put it in my grandmother’s house,” Weigel said. “A day later, they were going to use my grandma’s house as a makeshift chapel and to meet there to determine what they were going to do with the church.”

Weigel said when they tried to move the tabernacle again, it took at least three men to pick it up.

There used to be a gas station on the corner. During the tornado, the owner took shelter in an underground oil change pit and was able to survive unscathed, however, the service station was destroyed.

While the gas station was never rebuilt, the original sign still stands today in Hamburg.

The original service station sign still stands

Meyer recalls how kids were given a unique job over the next few days. Children in Hamburg were tasked with finding canned goods, bread and other forms of food that had blown out of homes. 

The tornado not only impacted Hamburg, it also left heavy damage throughout the area and injured at least 17 people. 

Other areas that took a hard hit include New Point and Enochsburg, where two people lost their lives as a result of the storms. 

“The days and weeks after that, just driving around and seeing the damage was unbelievable,” Weigel said. 

Meyer added that one small blessing was that the storms came through around 3:30 p.m. on a weekday. The number of fatalities could have been far worse if it happened just one hour later.

“All the kids would have been home from school and people were working in town when it happened,” he said. 

1 Comment

I was going to Batesville High school and we were in the Gym. The teacher had us go to the shower room and it became pitch black. One of the teachers aides had a cigarette lighter and we were able to get into our lockers and change our clothes and gather our books. I lived off of St Mary's road and we had some damage on our farm. My Mother who was handicapped, slept through the whole thing. Mary Jane Heppner Johnson

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