Beyond the Rubble: 
Digitizing a Defining Moment
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As the F5 tornado approached Hesston, Kansas, on March 13, 1990, residents pulled out their video cameras to document the monstrous storm's approach. When the storm was over they snapped photos and filmed footage of the destruction: over 200 homes and over a dozen businesses destroyed. The tragic storm, along with another F5 tornado in Goessel, resulted in the loss of two lives and dozens of injuries. Twenty-five years later, the events of March 13, 1990, loom large in the memories of those who experienced the tornado. "It was a defining moment," Libby Albers, director of the Hesston Public Library told the Newton Kansan. "People can refer to 'this was there before, and this was not.'"

In commemoration of the Hesston tornado's 25th anniversary, the Hesston Public Library is digitizing their collection of photos, film footage, and documents related to the tornado with support from a KHC Heritage grant. Prior to digitization, the collection was stored in plastic tubs and was not easily accessible for use by residents and researchers. Now the digital archive is available online to a worldwide audience and includes pictures drawn by Hesston students, letters written by tornado survivors, and an audio recording of a church service from Sunday, March 18, 1990. Click here to see the Hesston Tornado Digital Collection.
Tornado in Hesston, Kansas, March 13, 1990
Wieland, Jay and Wieland, Peg, "Wieland Photo #01," Hesston Public Library, accessed March 16, 2015,

Among the public events commemorating the Hesston tornado's 25th anniversary is the 25 Years Beyond the Rubble: A Digitization Project Open House on Wednesday, March 18th at 1:00 PM at Hesston Public Library. Visit the Hesston Public Library's website for more information.

For more on the Hesston tornado and the Hesston Public Library's digitization project, read Libby Albers' blog post, "An Unusually Warm and Humid Day: March 13, 1990," on the Harvey County Historical Museum's Voices of Harvey County Blog.

Banner Photo: Hesston Public Library staff prepare photographs and video footage of the Hesston tornado for digitization. Photo by Tom Parker.
Heritage Grants to digitize photographs and archives commemorating a significant community event are available. Contact Murl Riedel, director of grants, for more information.