Remembering the Palm Sunday tornadoes, 50 years later

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ELKHART, Ind. -- 50 years ago this weekend, April 11 and 12, killer tornadoes raced across America’s Heartland claiming hundreds of lives and creating mass destruction.

Tom Skilling’s team tracked down survivors of the Palm Sunday Tornadoes to learn firsthand the stories behind two iconic photographs, from Illinois and Indiana.

Greg and Betty Huffman are the eldest son and wife of newspaper photographer Paul Huffman. On Palm Sunday, 1965, Paul and Betty had dropped off their youngest son at church and were heading back home on Route 33 near Dunlap, Ind., when they spotted a giant black mass heading straight at them.

They were witnessing the total destruction of the Midway Trailer Park, and were petrified that pieces of their own home about a mile away were being carried away, too.

Gene Coney was a volunteer fireman in Dunlap driving a big truck to a house fire when a policeman stopped him to say he was needed at the trailer park.

Their search for survivors was interrupted when they got a call over their radios: a second tornado was coming. There was no public warning system, no cell phones to alert others.

A memorial in Sunnyside pays tribute to the 49 men, women and children who died on Palm Sunday 1965.

Paul Huffman’s famous photograph accompanies the story of what happened. Little did he know he was about to show the world there is such a thing as a double vortex tornado.

To this day, the photograph hangs prominently in the newsroom of the Elkhart Truth newspaper.

Fifty years later, from Iowa to Ohio, many of the survivors have passed away. Newsman Paul Huffman shared the story of his world famous photograph publicly for the last time about a year ago.

Ed Fenelon, the head of the Chicago office of the National Weather service, says Huffman’s photo inspired him to become a meteorologist.

TOM SKILLING’S FERMILAB HIGHLIGHTS; http://wgntv.com/2015/03/28/ed-fenelon-national-weather-service-area-manager-on-deadly-palm-sunday-tornado-outbreak/

ELKHART TRUTH NEWSPAPER http://www.elkharttruth.com/

CRYSTAL LAKE HISTORY http://www.cl-hs.org/

**An important update to this story:   A former neighbor of the Halters in Crystal Lake, who lived at 92 Union Street in the Colby subdivision, two doors down, says our story showed the house next door to the Halters.   WGN relied on 50 year old newspaper accounts to identify the Halter home.

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