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Program on Deadly 1956 W. Mich. Tornadoes Airs Sunday on PBS-TV

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West Michigan's Deadly 1956 tornadoes killed 17 people and caused unprecedented destruction

West Michigan's Deadly 1956 tornadoes killed 17 people and caused unprecedented destruction

GRAND RAPIDS – A mini-documentary highlighting the deadly West Michigan 1956 tornadoes that killed 17 people and injured more than 300 will be aired on PBS WGVU-HD, TV Channel 35, for the first time ever.

Changing Winds features eye witness accounts and historical 1950s footage from home movies that describe the immense destruction inflicted by four tornadoes that ripped through West Michigan on a warm, humid Tuesday evening, April 3, 1956. Survivors describe their shock, fear, and feelings of loss as they recount the disaster that still stirs painful memories of this life-changing event. The ½ hour program, which was produced through the sponsorship of the Grand Rapids Historical Society, premiers at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Sunday, October 11, on WGVU-HD, the local PBS station.

The tornadoes worst damage occurred in the Hudsonville and Standale areas where homes and their foundations were completely swept away and cars were carried several hundred yards. Winds exceeded 200 miles per hour, earmarking the tornado as an “F5,” the highest possible rating based on the incredible damage tornadoes can produce. It is considered to be West Michigan’s worst natural disaster.

The first tornado struck Saugatuck and eased upon entering the southern outskirts of Holland. The next tornado began near Hudsonville, passed through Standale and ended south of Lakeview. The third powerful tornado tracked from the Lake Michigan coast north of Manistee all the way to Grand Traverse Bay. The final tornado began near Bangor in Van Buren County and ended near Lowell. By the time the storm system had exhausted its fury, it had inflicted unprecedented destruction.

Charles Breiner wrote, directed and co-edited the documentary with Robert Holthouse serving as co-editor. Daniel Garcia from Calvin College was the executive producer. Ernie Ostuno, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Rapids, and Gordon Olson, retired historian from the City of Grand Rapids, served as co-producers

The one-half hour Changing Winds DVD is part of a book, Paths of Destruction, which is a 128-page account of the disaster written by Ostuno and published by the Grand Rapids Historical Society in 2008.

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