Elgin residents look back at deadly 1978 tornado

Good Day Dakota

On July 4th, 1978 one North Dakota county was struck with disaster. Over 40 years later the town of Elgin doesn’t go a day without thinking about the tornado that destroyed their community. 

Over 23 twisters hit North Dakota every year, some more serious than others. This tornado, in particular, was nearly 250 yards wide and destroyed roughly 45 homes. It lasted around an hour traveling the ground for approximately 26 miles.

One couple shared their story with me from that unfortunate day.

The town of Elgin experienced the second deadliest tornado in North Dakota’s history. It killed 5 people and injured 35 more.

“We were here during the 1978 tornado that probably took about 5 minutes to go completely through town,” says Elgin resident, Duane Schatz. 
Duane and Gail Schatz have called the quiet town of Elgin home their entire lives. They told me they never saw it coming.
“The wind and the sound…you can’t imagine what that was like. When I went outside I could still hear the kids screaming from down the street,” says Gail Schatz.
The tornado hit 17 blocks in Elgin destroying houses, cars, stores, and anything else in its way with ease. 
“It was about a thousand-gallon water tank and it just twisted it and sat it right beside the house.,” Duane says. 
Schatz says most of the structures at the time weren’t built to handle this type of tornado.
“Most of those homes were built around 1910 or so…so they were older structures.”
But the tight-knit community didn’t let the storm tear their town apart instead, they came together rebuilding and making it stronger than ever before.
Duane Schatz: ” Mayor Ben Roth at the time designated the community center as a place for people to go and get together.”
Duane says the town has been rebuilt completely with stronger houses and stores, and better plans if another tornado that strong hits again.
“There’s several places where people can go such as the senior housing. There’s an underground where the people in that housing unit can go somewhere to be protected.”
The Schatz who were former owners of the Grant County News and Press documented every article and story from the tragedy. Not only as a way to remember the people that lost their lives…
“These are the Nicklaus’s and this is Mr. and Mrs. Hauck and then this was Henry Neher. “
But a way to show how far along the town has come.
“This was the check that was found 15 miles west of Mandan. It brings back a lot of memories and you kind of forget how destroyed things were. After so many years you are supposed to forget.”
The Schatz family told me a lot of the community was out on the lake that 4th of July, avoiding the tornado completely. They add that Elgin doesn’t want to be known as the town that had the deadly tornado, but as a great place to live and raise a family.

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