November 27, 2015

Hallam Tornado Anniversary Today

The time of 8:30 p-m, is likely etched in the minds of many southern Lancaster County citizens. It was ten years ago tonight, when an F-4 tornado that reached a width of 2.5 miles, practically leveled the village of Hallam. Remorse, confusion and thankfulness are words that come to mind for Joe Polak, who owns a car repair business in the village. Polak’s wife Vicky is the village clerk. He remembers the condemned sign outside his house, following the tornado.

“It was so big you couldn’t see it coming. You couldn’t tell what it was. By the time you realized what was going on, things were already breaking, glass and stuff,” Polak says.

Nancy Schmitz, who lives in a home south of Hallam’s Main Street, remembers getting home from a cancelled softball game in Lincoln. Her husband heard the storm, and recommended getting to the basement.

“We have an old home that was built in 1900. We had one of the back porch lift-up cellars. We got the dog and both of us down there and just as we got down there, the windows started breaking,” Schmitz recalls.

The tornado killed an elderly woman, and injured several others. It tossed a train off the tracks. Polak said some believe the tornado reached F-5 status as it traveled east of Hallam.  The twister traveled on the ground for 52 miles, from near Daykin to Wilber, Clatonia, through Hallam and finally lifting north of Panama. Polak’s shop, built in 1904, was wiped out during the twister.

He says the town lost a lot of people who chose not to rebuild, following the tornado. But several long-time residents have remained.

“It’s still a great place to raise your kids and have life after work, hunting and fishing and all of that. If the good lord decides that it’s your time, it’s your time,” Polak says.

Schmitz considers the town lucky that more people were not killed. The entire storm lasted about ten minutes, with rain wrapping around the tornado. Today, the town has a new look, with new trees growing. Schmitz says she’s even seen squirrels and rabbits for the first time. There are also signs that the community is growing.

“I hear there’s three houses going to be built this summer, and the young people are moving in which is great. I just love to see that. Have the young people come on to Hallam, we’ll welcome them. We’re very proud of this town,” says Schmitz.

Schmitz, whose son, daughter-in-law and grandson live in Hallam, said, “we get nervous when storms start to hit, but there’s not much we can do about it”.

Hallam’s rebuilding included a new city building and auditorium and a new volunteer fire station. The 2.5 mile wide tornado is considered the second-largest tornado ever recorded width-wise.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice

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