Reporters' recollections of June 16, 1992
WORTHINGTON -- People who were in the region on June 16, 1992, will remember that the air was heavy that day -- so heavy that it carried a sense of foreboding.
So, when the Daily Globe newsroom received a report that there had been tornado damage to the north of Worthington, none of us working there were too surprised. It had seemed inevitable, given the feeling in the air. But nothing prepared us for the damage we would report upon that night.
Even though I wasn't slated for duty that evening, I happened to still be in the newsroom when the reports started to filter in. It was quickly decided that veteran reporter Jill Callison and the photographer on duty, Eric Hansen, would head north and check out the damage while I stayed behind and answered phone calls and took care of the routine newsroom duties.
Jill, now a reporter at the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., remembers thinking that their trek north would likely yield little news.
"I figured that we'd just be gone for a little while. I thought, 'This is going to be nothing. How many times do you hear of a tornado and it turns out to be nothing?'" she recalled during a phone conversation earlier this week. "In my notebook that night, the first thing I wrote down was about a corn crib that was blown over. We stopped so that Eric could take a picture of it, so we'd have something when we went back."
But it didn't take long for Jill and Eric to realize that the tornado outbreak had done much more than blow over a corn crib.
"We went to Fulda first, and there we were told that we had to go up to Chandler," Jill related. "Then we were told that we had to go to Lake Wilson, too. We were overwhelmed by how much destruction there was."
Meanwhile, those of us who were manning the newsroom began to realize that this was a drastic situation, and we had just sent two of our own into the midst of it. Twenty years ago, there were no cell phones, no way of keeping in touch with our field team, especially since the storm had knocked out power and communications in the hardest hit areas. As the hours ticked away on the clock and we heard more about the destruction, we hoped and prayed that our colleagues were safe.
"How different it would have been," said Jill about how computers and cellphones have changed a reporter's ability to relay news. "People would have been sending photos the whole time, I would have been tweeting quotes."
But all Jill and Eric had to work with were a notebook and a camera, and they did their best trying to capture the scene that unfolded in front of them.
"Eric and I separated for a while," Jill explained about how they approached the story as they headed into Chandler. "We had to park on the highway and walk into town. You had to walk from place to place, and it kept getting darker and darker, and we hadn't even gotten up to Lake Wilson yet."
For Jill, there is one thing that stands out most as she reflects on that evening of two decades ago -- the graciousness of the people she encountered, despite the overwhelming circumstances.
"You're going up to people who have just lost their homes, who have been injured, and you have to be a reporter, which means you feel like some kind of vulture," she said. "'Do you mind if I ask you some questions?' And nobody told me no. They were so nice to me. They knew it was my job. ... I wrote a column afterward about how nice people were. They understood that we had to get the paper out."
I never saw the destruction firsthand that night, but was astounded by the descriptions of the damage that came in via phone as I put together an overview story that would run in the next day's paper. Both Jill and I rank that evening's tornado outbreak as the most significant news events of our careers, and we hope we never have to report on such a happening again.
When Eric and Jill returned to the office after an absence of many hours, it was to frantically piece together the stories, develop and print photographs of the damage and get the paper out so people could read about the disaster first thing the next morning.
"The (tornado) sirens went off in Worthington after we got back that night, and even after everything we'd seen that night, I think we might have just pretended to go to the basement," Jill shared. "We had to get the paper out."
Tornado coverage would dominate the paper for days and weeks to come, with all the staff pitching in to try and cover every possible angle.