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Gosser Ridge hit by Tornado April 29, 1971

Coverage of the tornado of April 29, 1971 from the Columbia Statesman archives; six people lost their lives and a path of destruction was left behind. Click for the previous installment of these stories.

In Russell: It was a night of terror for Gosser Ridge family
by J. Jordan Phelps

Pure reflex rolled Garfield Gosser from his bed in a dive for the bedroom floor at the first crack of sound he was aware of hearing. Heavy weights pressed his body to the carpet. He struck out blindly, shrugging from under broken plaster and broken bits of brick and lumber. Something was wrong!

Suddenly his head was free and driving rain pelted his face. The wind screamed in his ears, bringing stinging tears to his eyes. He struggled to sit up.

"Garfield! Garfield!" His wife was sitting upright in the bed, horrified at the emptiness in the bed where he should have been. The wind howled in the blackness around her.

He raised up to grab her wrist. Numb, he started stripping bed- clothes from the bed. "Garfield, Linda's gone! Where's Linda?" Gosser swung his gaze to where his bedroom door should have been, through which he should have seen the door to his 16-year-old daughter's room. There was nothing there, and panic gripped his chest.

"Linda!?" he bellowed. "Linda!" Mrs. Gosser was on her feet, stumbling over the wreckage covering the carpet, shrieking her daughter's name. A flash of lightning lit the country-side for an instant, long enough for Mrs. Gosser to glimpse a small waif-like figure wandering aimlessly in the long grass of the field behind the house. "There she is!" she yelled, arm outflung to point. She ran over the rubble of Linda Gosser's bedroom, no longer containing even a bed, toward her daughter in the field.

Grabbing an armful of quilts, Gosser raced after her.

Linda was wavering in the grass, crying as she called for her parents. Mrs. Gosser jerked her into her arms.

"Everything's all right," she sobbed. "Daddy's here with us, baby."

Catching sight of a light for an instant through the inky blackness Gosser swiftly determined his goal.

Wrapping his night-dressed family in quilts, he sharply ordered them toward where he'd seen the light.

"We've got to find shelter, Gosser instructed them in a reaction as primative as man's history. Later, there would be time for other thoughts, time to assess his losses, time, if he wished, to give in to the depression and hopelessness tugging at the back of his mind.

Mrs. Gosser, calm now with her family reunited around her, wrapped an arm about Linda as Gosser led them through the roaring darkness, down the road in front of their house across from Salem Elementary, toward the store building at Salem where he knew he'd seen a light.

Shrouded in bulky quilts, his family reached the small haven standing firm in a world with nature gone berserk. There, others of the wandering citizenry of the small Russell County community were gathering to face a world gone mad together. Inside, under the dim flow of someone's kerosene lantern, Gosser checked his family. He and his wife were unhurt. Linda,a gash on her forhead and blood streaming her face, winced in pain at a touch of her right shoulder.

Making his daughter as comfortable as possible lying along the base of a wooden counter with her head in her mother's lap, Gosser begin to scrounge clothing from his neighbors so he could join the already beginning rescue work of the less fortunate Salem.

Later--much later, after Linda had received first aid and seemed to be in no great danger-- Gosser was again tempted to give into the hopelessness so evident around him. Grimly, he steeled himself. We are all alive, he thought. What's my farm next to that?

At first light, Gosser returned in the stillness to his farm. Linda had been to Somerset to the hospital and had returned. Her injuries were the ones grouped under "minor" in the newspapers; she had been treated and released.

In the grayness of the dawn, Gosser's farm was a wreck. Two walls forming a corner in his and his wife's bedroom were all that poked their way above the rubble that was the rest of his home. His family's personal possessions were scattered through no one knew how many fields, rainsodden and forlorn.

His barn was only a mass of crushed and splintered lumber--though three dogs tied there had all survived. His pickup truck, tailights still valiantly blazing, lay twisted around the severed trunk of one of his shade trees--of which he had been so proud. Only one tree remained standing.

His daughters' brand new orange Volkswagen-severely damaged- pricked a point of color among the twisted and broken limbs covering it. Hogs, non-comprehending and uncaring that their pens were swept away, rooted contentedly among the debris. A passer-by drew up in his car and stared shocked at the wreckage. Slowly, one by one, others--friends, neighbors, sensation seekers--arrived to mill through the wreckage.

"Everyone all right, Garfield?"

Gosser assured everyone "We're all o.k." a hundred times, gradually beginning to not explain the events of the night. No one else could completely understand his feelings when he awoke to an open sky with the wind carrying his house away and the rain lashing his face as he struggled to find and protect his family "You lose any livestock, Garfield?" an unshaven man in farm dress wanted to know.

"I think I lost a calf." Gosser returned, shuddering at what could have happened to his family. "I haven't counted my hogs yet."

Already the survival of his dogs within the splintered timber of his demolished barn was adjusting itself to something less than miraclulous.

Another man, suddenly struck with the enormity of the tornado's damage, innocently blurted: "Good Lord. Garfield! You're ruined!"

Slowly Gosser turned to face the man, drawing himself to his full height.

"Ruined?" his voice was scornful. "I'm up walking around, my woman is resting at her cousin's, that gal of mine is all right. Ruined?" he repeated. "I think I'm doing fine!"

This story was posted on 2022-05-21 08:50:57
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Lives spared in the tornado of 1971

2022-05-21 - Adair County, KY - Photo from the Columbia Statesman archives.
HOME INMATES SPARED -- Emma Goodin and Gladys Goodin McOuaide stand before the ruins of a trailer near the Goodin Rest Home. They said the Home was damaged, but that they were thankful for the fact that the inmates suffered only minor injuries.

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