The Dagley Dagley Daily  

By Janet Dagley Dagley
Covering the world from the waterfront in Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

ISSN 1544-9114

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The Dagley Dagley Daily

01/26/2003 - 02/02/2003 02/16/2003 - 02/23/2003 02/23/2003 - 03/02/2003 03/02/2003 - 03/09/2003 03/09/2003 - 03/16/2003 03/16/2003 - 03/23/2003 03/23/2003 - 03/30/2003 03/30/2003 - 04/06/2003 04/06/2003 - 04/13/2003 04/13/2003 - 04/20/2003 04/20/2003 - 04/27/2003 04/27/2003 - 05/04/2003 05/04/2003 - 05/11/2003 05/11/2003 - 05/18/2003 05/18/2003 - 05/25/2003 05/25/2003 - 06/01/2003 06/01/2003 - 06/08/2003 06/08/2003 - 06/15/2003 06/15/2003 - 06/22/2003 06/22/2003 - 06/29/2003 06/29/2003 - 07/06/2003 07/06/2003 - 07/13/2003 07/13/2003 - 07/20/2003 07/20/2003 - 07/27/2003 07/27/2003 - 08/03/2003 08/03/2003 - 08/10/2003 08/17/2003 - 08/24/2003 08/24/2003 - 08/31/2003 08/31/2003 - 09/07/2003 09/07/2003 - 09/14/2003 09/14/2003 - 09/21/2003 09/21/2003 - 09/28/2003 09/28/2003 - 10/05/2003 10/05/2003 - 10/12/2003 10/12/2003 - 10/19/2003 10/19/2003 - 10/26/2003 10/26/2003 - 11/02/2003 11/02/2003 - 11/09/2003 11/09/2003 - 11/16/2003 11/16/2003 - 11/23/2003 11/23/2003 - 11/30/2003 11/30/2003 - 12/07/2003 12/07/2003 - 12/14/2003 12/14/2003 - 12/21/2003 12/21/2003 - 12/28/2003 12/28/2003 - 01/04/2004 01/04/2004 - 01/11/2004 01/11/2004 - 01/18/2004 01/18/2004 - 01/25/2004 01/25/2004 - 02/01/2004 02/01/2004 - 02/08/2004 02/08/2004 - 02/15/2004 02/15/2004 - 02/22/2004 02/22/2004 - 02/29/2004 02/29/2004 - 03/07/2004 03/07/2004 - 03/14/2004 03/14/2004 - 03/21/2004 03/21/2004 - 03/28/2004 03/28/2004 - 04/04/2004 04/04/2004 - 04/11/2004 04/11/2004 - 04/18/2004 04/18/2004 - 04/25/2004 04/25/2004 - 05/02/2004 05/02/2004 - 05/09/2004 05/09/2004 - 05/16/2004 05/16/2004 - 05/23/2004 05/23/2004 - 05/30/2004 05/30/2004 - 06/06/2004 06/06/2004 - 06/13/2004 06/13/2004 - 06/20/2004 06/20/2004 - 06/27/2004 07/04/2004 - 07/11/2004 07/11/2004 - 07/18/2004 07/18/2004 - 07/25/2004 07/25/2004 - 08/01/2004 08/01/2004 - 08/08/2004 08/08/2004 - 08/15/2004 08/15/2004 - 08/22/2004 08/22/2004 - 08/29/2004 08/29/2004 - 09/05/2004 09/05/2004 - 09/12/2004 09/12/2004 - 09/19/2004 09/19/2004 - 09/26/2004 09/26/2004 - 10/03/2004 10/03/2004 - 10/10/2004 10/10/2004 - 10/17/2004 10/17/2004 - 10/24/2004 10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004 10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004 11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004 11/14/2004 - 11/21/2004 11/21/2004 - 11/28/2004 11/28/2004 - 12/05/2004 12/05/2004 - 12/12/2004 12/12/2004 - 12/19/2004 12/19/2004 - 12/26/2004 12/26/2004 - 01/02/2005 01/02/2005 - 01/09/2005 01/09/2005 - 01/16/2005 01/16/2005 - 01/23/2005 01/23/2005 - 01/30/2005 01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 02/13/2005 - 02/20/2005 02/20/2005 - 02/27/2005 03/20/2005 - 03/27/2005 07/02/2006 - 07/09/2006

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30 years ago today...

...I was a cub reporter for the Dayton Daily News, covering the F-5 tornado that hit Xenia, Ohio, on what may have been the worst weather day in recorded history.

One year ago today

I wrote this. I can't think of a better way to say it for this anniversary, so I'm reposting it here today.

This year the Dayton Daily News has a lot of special features on it, including one I'd never seen: a home movie made by a teenager who barely escaped the tornado. If you watch it in streaming audio, make sure your computer sound is on, and right-click on the image to choose the full-screen option. You might also want to be sitting down. If you're not holding on tight to your chair or your desk or whatever's handy when the video starts, you probably will be by the time it's over. Everyone I've ever talked to who witnessed a tornado has said the same thing: it sounded like a train coming. The video gives you a better idea what they mean by that.

The Weather Channel is also doing a special anniversary report on the anniversary of that stormy day.

Here's my story, and I'm sticking to it:

It was hot and muggy over much of North America the morning of April 3, 1974, with thunderstorms predicted for the afternoon across the middle of the continent as a cold front moved through. A typical spring day? Anything but.

Weather history was made that day: six F-5 (the most powerful on the Fujita scale) tornadoes, 23 F-4 tornadoes, 35 F-3 tornadoes, 30 F-2 tornadoes, 31 F-1 tornadoes, and 23 F-0 tornadoes — that's 148 in a 24-hour period, along with hundreds of thunderstorms, lightning strikes and the most powerful winds on record: 318 miles per hour. The storms killed 315 people, injured more than 5,000, from Mississippi to Ontario, Canada, snatched infants from their mothers' arms, ripped away not only whole houses but whole neighborhoods, and is best known either as "the Super Tornado Outbreak" or by the name of the city that was hit the hardest: Xenia, Ohio, where 33 people died.

Weather historians have another name for that day: the worst weather day ever.

I was a veteran cub reporter for the Dayton Daily News at the time, still the youngest person on the staff at 21 even though I'd worked there three years, part time at first covering local government meetings at night, by then a full fledged staff writer with, as then-editor Jim Fain would have put it, "all the rights and perquisites appertaining thereto." I was making $174 a week, paying $80 a month rent, driving a brand-new silver-blue Volkswagen with an even newer 8-track-tape stereo. I was working 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. then, and I'd just gotten home from work when the phone rang. It was my boss, Randy Preddy, telling me Xenia had just been hit by a tornado. "Try to get there if you can, any way you can — but be careful: there may be trees or power lines down in the roadway, or bridges out. Don't take any chances. We're trying to get as many people as we can out there, so if you can't make it, just come back to the office. We'll be here."

I drove straight east on U.S. 35 until I saw a roadblock ahead. I took a left just before it and headed north on a dark two-lane road, over a railroad crossing, toward Yellow Springs. Eventually I found U.S. 68 and turned south again toward Xenia, but I ran into another road block. I pulled out my press pass to show the authorities. "I don't care who you are, ma'am, you can't go any farther here," a sheriff's deputy said. "Nobody can." He pointed his flashlight toward the huge tree across the road in front of us, and beyond that, a live, sparking power line. So I took another detour, and eventually made it into Xenia from the north. The tornado had destroyed the western half of the town, in some places scrubbing a whole subdivision down to bare earth and concrete slabs. But the hospital was a few blocks north and east of downtown, and it was still there. So were as many injured people as could get there, hundreds of them. I talked to as many as I could, collecting names to run in the next day's paper, listening to one eyewitness account after another. People were crying, shaking, bloody — many had been hit by broken glass, and you could see little pieces of it stuck on their faces and hair. Many weren't injured, just looking for someone missing. There were lists of names, handwritten on yellow legal paper, posted on a bulletin board in the emergency room. I copied them all into my notebook; that took awhile. I got statements from the hospital staff, who were impeccably professional even though they'd been through much the same traumatic experience as their patients. I didn't even realize I was tired or hungry until a grandmotherly Red Cross volunteer, in a crisp Red Cross uniform, handed me a sandwich. I tried to decline; after all, reporters aren't supposed to accept gifts of any kind. "I don't think I should have one," I told her, "I'm the press, not one of the victims."

"That doesn't matter," she said, "Everybody gets one." I devoured it on the spot.

After I'd interviewed everybody who'd talk to me, I got back in the VW and headed back to Dayton the way I'd come, detours and all, since it seemed unlikely that the roads had been cleared. My article about that night in the hospital was in the next day's paper, and in subsequent days, more articles by most everybody on the staff who could read and write. A week after it happened, I decided to go back to Xenia on my own time and take a closer, not-on-deadline look. A friend and co-worker of mine (at the time), Tom Lynch, went along with me that day. I took notes; he drew in his sketchpad. People were already trying to rebuild; the Mennonites had arrived on the scene and the sound of hammering was everywhere. Some families had spray-painted messages on what was left of their homes, which for block upon block was little more than a piece of foundation and some plumbing, with upstairs toilets still in place even after the stairs and walls and floor were gone. The paper printed that, too, but warned us not to do any further tornado pieces without an editor's approval. You can find all that in the microfilm archives at the Dayton Public Library.

There are lots of people who remember the Xenia tornado better than I do, because they lived through it. There are lots of people who know more about what happened that day, scientifically speaking, than I do, because they are meteorologists and every meteorologist learns about that day in order to become a meteorologist.

A man now known only as "Mr. Brokeshoulder," a Native American resident of Xenia, happened to have a live microphone and a reel-to-reel tape recorder going when the tornado ripped through; you can hear that recording in mp3 form here. There's also a link to a video clip from the History Channel. Survivor Kitty Merchant has lots of photos on her site. And the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did a nice writeup for the 25th anniversary. And Dr. Fujita, inventor of the Fujita scale, put together this map of the outbreak as part of his extensive study of the outbreak.

But wait: there's more. On September 20, 2000, another tornado, following the same path as the 1974 twister, touched down in Xenia again, killing one, injuring 80, and destroying 48 homes, some of them rebuilt after 1974.

So wherever you are right now, whether the sun is out or cats and dogs are coming down in buckets, no matter how bad the weather, take a moment to remind yourself that it could be worse.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @1:42 PM


Alan Levy, friend of Bohemia (1932-2004)

The American community in Prague lost one of its most senior and most prominent citizens this morning: Alan Levy, the freelance journalist who covered the Soviet invasion of 1968, was later expelled by the puppet regime that followed, and then returned after the Velvet Revolution to edit the English-language Prague Post, died of cancer. He was 72.

Mr. Levy was senior not only in age, but also in the longevity of his connection to Prague. In 1967, he and his wife Valerie moved there with their two preschool daughters for an extended freelance assignment, becoming the first non-Communist American journalist accredited there since 1956. He was there to concentrate on cultural affairs, not to cover breaking news, but when the news broke, he and (during the invasion) Shirley Temple Black were among the few Americans on the scene.

He wrote about it all in a book originally published as Rowboat to Prague and later republished as So Many Heroes, both now out of print:

"The radio, like TV, stayed on the air much longer than even its most resolute diehards expected. At 0736, we'd heard the sound of gunfire outside the Radio building, a woman's voice exclaiming 'This is the end!', and a man's voice saying serenely: 'Remember what we have been telling you. Let our last words be engraved on your memory. Be with us. We are with you.' But then, to everybody's surprise, the voices of Radio Prague were still with us until noon, shortly after an announcer, broadcasting from a studio disguised as a ladies' room, declared: 'Outside a lot of blood is flowing and we don't know how long we can continue. It is too hot here now, but at least our consciences are clear. Be with us, we are with you.'

Then, with scarcely a 120-second station break, Radio Prague yielded to Radio Free Pilsen ('home of the world-famous Pilsener Beer') and Radio Free Ceske Budejovice (Budweis, 'home of the original Budweiser Beer'). Various radio people had spent the morning organizing a legal (the Russians called it 'clandestine') radio network that now carried man-in-the-street interviews ('This is too dirty! Too dirty to touch!'); urgent pleas ("This is Czechoslovakia calling to the world!"); a poem of protest from a group of librarians; and even the message of an 'Extraordinary Congress' of Pilsen elementary-schoolers, meeting in a playground, to the occupation commander. ('We are children. We want to grow up free. You also have children. Please go home and look after your own children. They are very much like us. Don't leave them alone without their fathers.')"

The Levy family didn't leave when that story faded from the headlines. They stayed in Prague until the new government sentenced him to 5,615 years in prison and then gave them 48 hours to leave the country. Even then they didn't go far, settling in Vienna for many years before returning to Prague shortly after the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Mr. Levy became founding editor of The Prague Post in 1991. In the weekly's inaugural edition, he wrote:

"We are living in the Left Bank of the '90s. For some of us, Prague is Second Chance City; for others a new frontier where anything goes, everything goes, and, often enough, nothing works. Yesterday is long gone, today is nebulous, and who knows about tomorrow, but, somewhere within each of us, we all know that we are living in a historic place at a historic time."

Thousands of Americans, myself and my children included, subsequently came to live in Bohemia's magical golden-spired capital (then capital of Czechoslovakia, now capital of the Czech Republic) for a few years after the revolution, and hundreds of those were interviewed by the dozens of reporters who talked their employers into sending them to Prague to interview American expatriates so they could be part of the scene themselves for a few days. So many of those expats were young adults that they got their own acronym: YAPs (Young Americans in Prague). Most, myself included, have since moved on, but we understand all too well how Mr. Levy came to fall in love with Prague and why he remained there in spirit all those years until he could return to his adopted home.

Mr. Levy was as tenacious as a person has to be to not only survive, but support a family as a freelance writer in a troubled foreign land; he was every bit as gentle and amiable and open. It's difficult to imagine a Prague in which there is no possibility of encountering Mr. Levy again. I'd rather believe his spirit will always linger there. All the powers of the Red Empire couldn't keep him away; maybe death can't, either. In any case, his words remain, including more than a decade of weekly "Prague Profile" columns for the Post and his 1993 book, The Wiesenthal File, for which he was named Author of the Year by the American Society of Journalists & Authors.

Our condolences to his family and to the city he loved.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @10:32 AM


A national treasure

Fans of hillbilly and other authentic folk music have reason to holler "Yee-HA!" this week: the recordings of music historian Alan Lomax are now preserved together in their rightful place: The Library of Congress.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @6:32 PM


Gray day

The Empire State Building is still there, just grayed out by the low clouds and fog.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @4:37 PM


Have you tried Froogle yet?

It's a search engine for shopping online, brought to you by Google (the parent company of Blogger), Froogle has now been officially launched. We've been using it for several months now while it was in beta testing, and we recommend it highly. Click here to give it a try. There are numerous options you can choose along the side of the page to sort through the products found. If you're not finding much, choose "show all products" from those options.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @4:32 PM


A small step, a giant leap

That's the headline I wrote in one of the two journalism classes I took in college, on a story that had taken place back in 1969 involving an area man who had just stepped onto the moon. Today, I'm using it again as we take note of a few more important steps that also represent a giant leap. Congratulations, Mom! I guess walking is a lot like riding a bicycle -- only without the bicycle.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @6:41 PM


Thank you, Richard Clarke

Book of the day:

Article of the day (about the book of the day): The Wonk That Roared, (Washington Post). Apparently we need not only to make the pie higher, but make the bunker deeper as well.

  posted by Janet Dagley Dagley @6:02 PM


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