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Grand Island, New York

Feature Stories - 2006
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Islanders Write Of Florida Tornado - 2007

By Teddy Linenfelser

   Many Island residents here were very concerned for friends and neighbors who have relocated to Lady Lake and The Villages in Florida. According to former Island resident Gail Lazenby of Lady Lake, the Villages Fire personnel (Gail, Jason Weis and Jeff Loder), and all of the Western New York contingent who are now Village residents (Bob and Eileen Drumm, Richard and Maryann Wozniak, Paul and Veronica Shisler, Joanne McCartin, Tom and Maria Connell, Howard and Doris Danzer, Bob and Betty King, etc.) are fine and suffered no damage to their homes.
   Jason Weis, a member of the Villages Fire Department, wrote that a lady flagged him down saying that her friend was trapped in her house because a car flew threw her front door. According to Jason, the 911 system was having problems dispatching and were not entirely aware of what was going on. "We searched for victims in the houses we could enter. A lot we were unable to get into, total devastation. We ended up calling for four counties and two state USAR teams," Jason said. "Five minutes after the call that we cleared, the house was hit and lost the roof, garage and two outside walls. That was the scariest, all this happened less than a mile from my station."
   Gail Lazenby, Captain/paramedic and the Villages Fire Department’s EMS training officer, put it this way. "It wasn’t a “bad” tornado; it was a hellacious, terrible, devastating tornado! Right now, it looks like 500+ houses are significantly damaged, and another 175 homes are totally destroyed. Phenomenally, we had only minor injuries in The Villages. This tornado also hit our neighbor community of Lady Lake. Several of their mobile homes were destroyed and there were six fatalities. More tornados hit about 60 miles away with more devastation and more deaths."
   Gail, a former Island school district English teacher, also wrote: The “event” began with a spectacular thunder and lightning storm. I’ve never seen lightning this bright. In fact, it was almost like looking at repeated flashbulbs going off one inch from your face – one every ½ second. This lasted for nearly 10 minutes along with torrential rain. Just as the storm stopped and the atmospheric pressure changed, the tornado struck. It went through the southern end of The Villages with a half-mile swath. Beside the homes, it also destroyed the Mallory Hill Country Club (and much of the Mallory Hill golf course), and the Coconut Cove Recreation Center (a building similar in size to the fire hall).
   "The Grand Island Fire Co. contingent of The Villages Fire Department were out in force (and, yes, they and their families are ok). Jason Weis and Jeff Loder (both are firefighter/EMTs) were assigned to “medical engines” handling numerous calls for assistance. I was assigned to oversee disaster relief efforts and emergency medical care at the Laurel Manor Recreation Center. Folks who were displaced by the storm were directed to Laurel Manor for initial medical care (if necessary) and for shelter.
   Gail's email continued: "Folks from Florida Disaster Management and FEMA have both been here, and we are on the way to healing. You wouldn’t believe The Villages recovery efforts. Earlier today I watched a virtual “army” of repair/clean-up personnel descend on the affected areas – probably 800 to 1000 men and women. They came with dozens of pieces of heavy equipment and even more dump trucks to haul away debris. Homes were boarded up, roofs were covered with blue tarps, and debris was carted away. Granted, the homes are damaged (or destroyed), but every effort is made to help these folks get back to their daily lives. It is truly amazing!
   And all of that effort doesn’t even begin to cover the work done by volunteers. Anyone who was remotely touched by the tornado has been offered food, food, food. Some homemade. Some from restaurants who simply opened their kitchens. Within three hours of the tornado-event, we had a list of over 500 Villages homeowners who were willing to open their guest rooms to displaced tornado victims. Even though more than 1000 people were displaced because of the damage, not a single person spent the night in one of The Villages’ shelters (even though we were ready for them)."
   Former Tracey Lane resident, Eileen Drumm, who now resides in The Villages, wrote: "We are OK with no damage to person or property. The tornado hit about two miles south of us and did extensive damage to some of the newer Village homes there. Over 75 homes were completely destroyed and another 500 sustained some type of damage either structural or windows or doors blown out. Many of the contractors that work for The Villages came out over the weekend on their own time and picked up debris, cut trees up plus put blue tarps on the roofs of the houses that are salvageable."

Remembering Back 30 Years To The Blizzard Of ‘77
Grand Island, New York - 2007

By Teddy Linenfelser - January 25, 2007

Photos submitted by Emily Dahlstrom - Click for larger view

Houses on Baseline in the Fix Road area.

Homes on Baseline near Fix.

   A blizzard is characterized by driving snow, severe winds of 40 to 60 miles per hour over a specified period of time and temperatures as low as 10 degrees. Often snowstorms are called blizzards, like the squall that hit the weekend of Jan. 10-11, 1977 when actually they are only blizzard-like in nature. The Blizzard of ’77 that put Buffalo on the world weather map for all time met all the criteria for a real weather emergency. Here’s what I remember.
   The weather for weeks before the Blizzard of ’77 was record-breaking to say the very least. Snowfall records were broken in November and December ’76 and again in January 1977 when snowfall here surpassed the record of 50.6 inches, established in 1955. That was two days before the Blizzard of ’77 came roaring into town about noon, on January 28th accompanied by bitter cold temperatures and high winds. Island youth groups, just two days before “the big one,” began Operation Dig Out under the direction of Assistant Fire Chief Bill Wood when snowed-in fire hydrants throughout the town were dug out.
   There had been major storm warnings all morning. Everyone thought they would get to where ever it was they planned on going and be back by the time there was any real trouble. Not so for most.
   People took refuge in the Holiday Inn, St. Stephen School, the Knights of Columbus Hall and the fire hall to name a few. Erie County Deputy Sheriffs worked around the clock assisting people trapped in their cars and homes. Volunteers from the Grand Island Fire Company were able to rescue nearly 300 stranded motorists who were either taken to the main fire hall or to the Holiday Inn until it was filled. Tops Market stayed open so that the Ladies Auxiliary and Fire Company personnel could provide meals to the cold and weary travelers as well as stranded Islanders.
   Several members of the Ladies Auxiliary remember helping to serve numerous national guardsmen and deputy sheriffs as well as a hall full of those unable to get to their homes.
   Calls to the Fire Company for medication were taken care of by firemen in 4-wheel drive trucks and the snowmobilers. Lane Drug Store in the plaza on Grand Island Boulevard remained open and dispensed prescriptions at no charge. Between 60 and 65 fire company volunteers stood by at the three fire houses during the emergency with between 10 and 20 on duty at all times. The Fire Company answered hundreds of phone calls including Islanders requesting the delivery of groceries and others asking for road conditions.
   Highway Superintendent Norm Mrkall and his staff were on the roads 24 hours a day for days trying to make sure the roads were cleared of the drifting and blowing snow. When regular plows could not handle the heavy snow and drifts across roads, Norm and the Highway Department put the town's high lifts into service. According to Gary Roesch, fire chief at that time, the Grand Island Snowmobile Club as well as private snowmobilers and four-wheelers worked together with, and were a major asset to the Fire Company.
   A party planned at the Knights of Columbus never took place, however, those who found themselves stuck in their cars near the clubhouse were lucky to have the food that had been prepared for the canceled event.
    As for my own family, husband Jim went to work as usual in Cheektowaga, and the entire company was snowed into their building on Cayuga Drive with little to eat or drink. He called several times that first night to see how our two young children and I were doing. The following morning, after trying to get some sleep on the top of his desk, a plan was devised to get everyone out of the building. A garage door was opened, a shovel was thrown out and Jim, who was lifted up on a forklift, jumped out and tunneled through the 7-foot high drift. He made it back to the Island, changed his clothes and attempted the drive to the fire hall to join his fellow firemen in lending his assistance. After sliding his van off the road and being pulled out by a town plow, he made his way to the main hall by following that plow.
   Friday for some reason was a school holiday and our two children and I had planned to go to a movie with Carol Roesch and her three kids, but after listening to the warnings she and I made the decision to stay put. By nighttime our house seemed cold, probably from the roaring wind and sub-0 temperatures. I went outside to our woodpile and, truly blinded by the raging snow, dug deep with my hands until I could feel a couple logs. As I remember, my attempts at keeping a fire going in the fireplace weren’t good.
   There were numerous stories of those stranded on the bridges Friday, January 28, the first day of the storm. My sister-in-law, Penny Linenfelser, was on the south bridge for many hours, and sisters Virginia and Kathy Crea, were among those stuck on the north Grand Island Bridge from 12:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
   Islander Marie Vallina, with the assistance of Dr. James Dunlop of Grand Island, gave birth to a son, Jason David Vallina, on top of the north bridge at the height of the blizzard of ’77. The baby was born in an ambulance at 9:03 p.m., January 28th on the way to Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital. Husband, David, was stranded in Buffalo at the time.
   Blizzard Paralyzes WNY, Kills 7, Strands Thousands, read the Buffalo Evening News headline on January 29, 1977. The Courier Express was not published on the 29th, the first time since 1934 that weather interrupted its publication.
   Isle schools were closed for seven days making it necessary for students to attend on February 18th and 21st, previously scheduled as Patriots Day holidays.
   The storm that began on a Friday gave a brief reprieve until Monday when the weather became stormy and firefighters were back at their hall joined by the snowmobilers and four wheelers. On two separate occasions fire company wives and members of the Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary served National Guardsmen, who were working with the Island’s own snow fighting equipment. Life was somewhat back to normal by Tuesday morning for the firemen and everyone else who had pitched in to battle Old Man Winter ’77.
   In the aftermath of the storm, 82 license plate numbers were listed in the local paper for people who left cars standing on Isle roads, much to the hindrance of our Highway Department’s efforts of snow removal. The town board applied to Washington for $52,567 in blizzard-related funds to cover overtime for the highway and other town workers who were on the job in 22-hour shifts during the blizzard. Food stamps were dispersed from the main fire hall in mid-February and lines were long. Among private contractors who assisted the US Army Corps of Engineers in the massive job of clearing snow from over 3,000 miles of roads in seven western and two northern New York counties including Grand Island were Paul Long’s Landscape of Love Road and Don Vacanti of Bronson Road.
   Fire Chief Gary Roesch, Highway Superintendent Norm Mrkall and Supervisor Ray Griffin all commended the people of Grand Island in the way the community came together in a mutual effort to help where they could.
   The Buffalo area’s reputation for bad winter weather was reinforced and no wonder. The state of Alaska had warmer weather than we did for a full two weeks before our now famous blizzard reminded us what winter was all about.

   Editor's Note: The following stories recently submitted to Isledegrande.com, are from Islanders past and present.

Bob McMoil, GIHS Class of 1966, wrote from Mound, Minnesota:
   I can remember it very well. I did not live on the Island at that time. I was living in Amherst and I was a member of the Ellicott Creek Fire Department. We were in our station for four days and nights. We had fires in the blizzard and rescue calls. I did monitor the calls on Grand Island during that time. My parents still lived on Jenell Drive. I kept in contact with them to make sure they were alright.
   For those of you who did not live on the Island at that time, the people who did can tell you that they were in good hands with the Grand Island Fire Company. They are still the best. I was fortunate to be a member of the Company for about 12 years. I still read the fire reports on the Isledegrande.com web site and stop by to say hello when I get back to the Island for a visit.
I will be watching to see what everyone did during that storm.

Billy Williams wrote from Venice, Florida:
   I remember it well. Went to work in Lancaster that morning in my 69 Caddy coupe-Deville. By noon it was coming down so hard you couldn't see past the hood. Was able to get behind a tractor trailer heading down the Youngman and made it all the way to the Grand Island Bridge about 3 p.m., after moving a couple of abandoned vehicles out of the way with the truckers' help, only to be refused access to the bridge. I had let the air out of my tires to the point where I knew I could make it over to my home but had to detour to North Tonawanda. Had a CB in the car and was able to get word to my family as to where I was headed. Made it to the VFW in North Tonawanda and spent three days there sleeping on a pool table. We did have food and plenty of beer to keep us going though. Came out on the 3rd day and couldn't find my Caddy (how do you lose a Caddy???). Finally found it under a mound of snow that was deposited by a plow and was actually able to dig it out and get it started so I could make it home. Was great to sleep on a bed finally.
   I have since moved to Florida (no snow) after spending 28 years on the Island (1967-1995) with my wife Donna (Turner) Williams and daughter, Karrie.

Peter Steinlein wrote from Virginia Beach, Virginia:
   My memories of the Blizzard of '77 were this. I was working with my father at Certo Brothers. Was stuck there for a few days and nights, sleeping in a beer truck we had in the shop at the time. We survived on beer and Honey's Pizza that Mr. Certo sent one of his sons after. Finally when the weather cleared, my father drove Dave Gingher home who was working there as well.
   I remember being astounded at all of the snow piled in front of our house from the Kaegebein School parking lot.
   Then in April 1978 my good friend Jack Steckelberg drove me down here to Virginia Beach in his CJ5 jeep. I have been here ever since. Thanks for the ride, Jack .

Island resident Emily (Kunkel) Dahlstrom wrote:
       I was a student at Bryant and Stratton in Buffalo. When I left the school at around 3 p.m., big fluffy snowflakes were coming down. The snow came down more and more furiously as I drove, until visibility was near zero. The Niagara section of the Thruway was particularly bad, as the wind came in across the water. There would be momentary lulls, followed by big sheets of snow. I did make it to the bridge, where I sat in line with all the other cars. They weren't allowing us to cross. I was beginning to wonder if I should shut my car off for awhile to conserve gas when I noticed the truck in front of me was rolling backwards towards me. I tried honking but it didn't seem like that driver could hear me above the wind. I wondered if I would be safer inside or outside my car. He wasn't moving very fast towards me, but it sure was a big truck! Fortunately the truck driver next to me noticed my dilemma and honked his horn. It was a big long blast that nearly shot me out the top of my car, but the truck in front of me did put his brakes on. I gave the driver next to me a thumbs up.
   I was in desperate need of a bathroom by the time traffic started moving. They were diverting us off the thruway on to River Road. I made it as far as the Isle View where I parked and went in. I used their bathroom, but didn't have any money to get anything to eat or drink. The place filled up as more and more refugees came in. I spent the night there, perched on a barstool listening to everyone's stories. One snowmobile driver told how as he was driving along he felt two bumps. Looking back he figured out that he had just gone over two cars. I persuaded a snowmobile driver to take me back to the bridge, but we broke down and I had to walk back to the bar. In the morning people went out to start their cars, and we found that anybody who had parked into the wind now had snow packed on top of their engines, and they couldn't start their cars. I was lucky. I had parked up against the building. I started up and headed home.
   When I got to the toll booths, there was a policeman there who told me only some Island exits were open. I headed for North Colony Road instead of going all the way across the Island to my own home. When I got to North Colony, the road was blocked half way down by a huge drift of snow. I parked behind it along with a few other cars and crawled over the top of it. At the top of the drift I found about 4 inches of a car antenna sticking out. I was crawling over a car! I spent that day and night at my fiancé's house.
   The next morning when the plows arrived, we rushed out to move our cars and the plow driver was very grateful that we informed him that the drift in the middle of the road had a car beneath it.
   My fiancé, Gary Dahlstrom, was stuck in Batavia for the storm. When he called home to let his Mom know where he was she told him that his friend's father was also in Batavia, and he had a hotel room! He found his way to the hotel and found his friend's father in the hotel bar. He was confident that he would allow him to share his hotel room, after all they had known each other for years. The father was so immersed in alcohol however that he didn't recognize Gary. He had to do some convincing before he managed to secure the second bed for himself. A lot of people stayed in the hotel lobby that night.
   That winter it snowed every day for quite a long time. Gary had a friend staying with him that winter who was from Nebraska. He was absolutely amazed at Buffalo's weather. We didn't tell him that it wasn't typical.

Jessica Wroblewski Fisher Baird, GIHS Class of 1974 wrote from Atlantic Beach, Florida:
   I remember the Blizzard of '77 well. I was employed at the PennySaver at the time as the receptionist. For those of us who did not leave work early that day, Skip Mazenauer drove us to the Holiday Inn where we spent the next day or two, eating, drinking and socializing with all the other stranded people. I don't remember too much about the stay except that my husband at the time, Doug Fisher, arrived at the hotel from his job in town and "rescued" me. We went to his parents' home on Baseline Road and hunkered down. The Fishers enjoyed snowmobiling and therefore they were ready to assist in anyway they could. I remember Doug telling us that he and other snowmobilers were transporting people all over the Island to be with their families, taking people to stores that were still open to get food and medicines. Perishable foods such as bread, milk and eggs were hard to find. Doug made a trip on snowmobile to our apartment to gather these food items from our home to bring to his parents. I remember looking out the front picture window upon Baseline Road for any signs of life. Cars parked in the street and in driveways were buried under snow. If you didn't already know the cars were there you couldn't tell. At the sound and sight of a snow plow, I remember the feeling of relief, we were being rescued, finally things would begin to resume normalcy. I couldn't wait to get back to my normal schedule. I'd had enough of sitting around doing nothing more than eating and watching local television news.
   The Blizzard of '77 contributed to my decision to move to Florida back in '87. I don't miss the snow and cold except on the rare clear moonlit night where the moon is reflected off the fresh fallen snow so that it appears almost daylight. I also miss for about one second the sensation of getting that first breathe of crisp, ice cold air that seems to take your breathe away.
   I have many happy memories of Grand Island.

USS New York - "Never Forget" - 2007

Click photo for larger view
Posted January 25, 2007 - Author Unknown

   USS New York - She was built with 24 tons of scrap steel from the World Trade Center. She is the fifth in a new class of warship - designed for missions that include special operations against terrorists. It will carry a crew of 360 sailors and 700 combat-ready Marines to be delivered ashore by helicopters and assault craft.
   Steel from the World Trade Center was melted down in a foundry in Amite, LA to cast the ship's bow section. When it was poured into the molds on September 9, 2003, "those big rough steelworkers treated it with total reverence," recalled Navy Capt. Kevin Wensing, who was there. "It was a spiritual moment for everybody there."
   Junior Chavers, foundry operations manager, said that when the trade center steel first arrived, he touched it with his hand and the "hair on my neck stood up." "It had a big meaning to it for all of us," he said. "They knocked us down. They can't keep us down. We're going to be back."
   The ship's motto? "Never Forget."

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