By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Even while living in a tornado-prone area of the United States, most people will never actually hear the thunderous approach of a tornado or be blown around inside one.
But that is exactly what happened to Linda Tordsen June 13, 1968, in Tracy.
Twenty-year-old Linda, her soon-to-be daughter, Nancy Vlahos, and her 8-year-old sister, Pam Haugen, were at Linda Vaske’s home when the tornado hit.
First came loud hail. Then they all heard a siren, but didn’t realize it meant a storm. At that time, the Tracy civil defense siren was sounded for fires, too.
They were on their way to the basement when the front window shattered. Then the back door blew open, and they were sucked out into the tornado.
Pam was taken off the third basement step and blown down the street, and then back again.
But Linda has never remembered what happened from the time the glass blew out until she woke up.
Nearly bleeding to death, Linda had a cracked skull and a concussion. A piece of debris had gone completely through her left calf and one of the toes on her right foot was missing. Her right ankle was turned completely toward the back of her leg. She spent weeks in the hospital.
Pam’s head and face were battered, but she avoided major injuries. She was released from the hospital after only a few days.
But 2-year-old Nancy lost her life in the storm, one of nine fatalities. She was found a block away from the house in the other direction.
For the previous six months, Nancy had been living with Linda and her husband, Cliff Vaske, who was in the Army at Fort Lewis, Wash. The paperwork to adopt Nancy was filed but not completed.
Forty-four years later, Linda recalls getting to know Nancy by babysitting her often. Nancy’s single mother, Susie Vlahos, worked with Linda at the time.
“After I got married, Susie decided that Nancy would be better off with us, so we were preparing to adopt her,” said Linda.
It wasn’t until this year that Linda discovered who found Nancy after the tornado, and where.
“When I was in the hospital I kept asking about Nancy,” Linda said. “A couple days later they told me, but I couldn’t go to the funeral.”
Scott Thoma was also a Tracy resident at the time of the tornado. He spent more than a year doing research and writing his book, “Out of the Blue.” The book features Linda’s and Pam’s stories of survival.
When Linda regained consciousness that day she was in the middle of the street. “I got up and walked a few steps, even as bad as I was hurt,” she said. “I was in shock.”
She made two complete circles while wondering where she was. “Everything was flattened; I thought maybe I was at the dump,” she said.
Linda was picked up and taken to the hospital, where she was the first person in surgery. She stayed in the hospital for three weeks. After being home for only five days, she went back to the hospital for skin grafting and was there for another four weeks.
By 1995, her right ankle had deteriorated to such an extent that an artificial ankle was put in. There is no longer any pain.
Linda and Pam had never once talked about the tornado in all the years since then. “It was such a bad experience, we blocked it out,” Linda said.
It wasn’t until Thoma was researching the book that Pam and Linda met together with him in Tracy to share what they remembered.
“Tornado experts say there’s no way we should have lived through that tornado,” said Linda. “I was never afraid of storms, but I tell people now, ‘It’s OK to be scared of storms. I was lucky; I had a guardian angel and so did Pam.”
Copies of Thoma’s book can be found at Main Street Gallery in Sauk Centre and online at www.thomabooks.com.