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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Memories of a Sad Day in Ohio

Today is a sad anniversary for our area of Ohio. 40 years ago today ~ April 3rd, 1974 ~ a neighboring county and town were hit by a rare F5 tornado.
At the time, I was 15 years old and had only been home from school for a short time. The winds whipped up and dark storm clouds quickly filled the sky. My brother called me out to the back yard to watch the clouds race to the east. We had never seen anything like it ~ the clouds were traveling so fast and as they went by, there were swirling areas that would slowly go up and down, up and down, but never dropping.

We watched this incredible scene for several minutes and then went inside to watch a local weather man, Gil Whitney, as he was in front of his big radar map (that tornado footage on the link was shot by my husband's uncle). At once, he was desperately trying to convey the urgency of the situation AND not make people panic, but calls were coming in that a HUGE tornado was ripping right through downtown Xenia.
At the same time, my husband (then still on his family's farm in a neighboring town) and his dad were watching THREE tornadoes blend into one HUGE tornado . . . and praying for my mother-in-law who was working at a bank in that very downtown and for my brother-in-law and his new wife who lived in the historic section of old downtown Xenia. Thankfully, they all survived ~ but downtown Xenia didn't. 
My mother-in-law worked at a bank nearly in the middle of the most devastated area. The employees and a few patrons ran down below ground into the bank's vault. That decision saved all of their lives. When it was over, and with the help of others outside, they were able to get out of the vault and when they did ~ the WHOLE bank was gone! Just gone. Completely level. 
A whole housing development of scores of homes was gone. The historic courthouse was badly damaged. Banks, restaurants, groceries, shops, homes . . . gone

The high school was gone ~ a close friend of ours was a senior at the high school and was practicing for a track meet with a friend. They actually survived the tornado by hanging on for dear life to the heavy metal legs of the stadium stands! I've heard him tell many times over the years about how they stood facing each other with their arms wrapped around and through the huge risers' leg and as the tornado bore down they would be lifted up 6 and 8 feet from the ground, with the risers, and slammed back onto the ground. But they survived when others didn't. Another friend's father was in his truck in a downtown parking lot that was rolled and crashed around, he survived but was badly injured. And paperboy was on his bike delivering papers in the large plat that was leveled and couldn't get home quick enough, next thing he knew, he was sitting on the courthouse lawn talking to a policeman and wondering how he'd gotten there . . . 3 miles away. He was never quite the same. They survived when others didn't.
32 lives were lost that day, including an expectant mother. There was over $200 million dollars in damage ~ in 1975 money. President Nixon flew over the area in a helicopter and said that he had never seen anything like it, and he had served in the military. 

Three days after the tornado, my family drove through the parts of Xenia that had been shoveled and cleared to allow traffic, on our way to southern Ohio to visit my grandparents. It is a sight that I will never forget. I had never seen a town just "go away." You could see the trail the tornado's tail had literally cut into the ground in some of the fields it had traveled through. 

My 9th grade science teacher was also a National Guardsman and he missed a week of school to help with some of the rescue and clean up. He came back to class with 4'x6' blown up aerial photos he had taken of the devastation. Our class looked at his photos and listened to his stories in stunned silence. Stories and finding people in the strangest places, railroad ties wrapped around telephone poles like weird candy canes, planks sticking out of houses, a telephone pole that went in the front windshield of a parked car and out the back windshield and the glass was barely cracked around it, playing cards cut into trees and telephone poles that weren't even bent. 

My dad had a co-worker who had gotten home just moments before it hit and, like he did everyday, had laid his wallet and extra pocket change on an end table in his living room; his house was destroyed, his family barely survived ~ but ~ while nothing else was there, the little end table still stood and his wallet and most of the pocket change was still there. My brother-in-law and his wife's house was half gone, however, the kitchen did survive. They had a cream and sugar set on their kitchen table that had made it through. When they were packing up the things that they could save, they took the little set. The first time they had opened the sugar bowl was to pack it up to wrap in packing paper and when they opened it, they discovered that all the sugar had been sucked out, replaced by broken glass and the lid set back down. 
Amazing stories from an amazing day in Ohio history.

Blessings from Ohio . . . Kim<><


  1. Incredible! My husband was the photographer for The Alabama Baptist Newspaper when an F-5 ripped through Birmingham ,AL in 1998 (Easter weekend). At 3am he was sent out to document the wreckage.... it was horrific. He's never been the same. He too was a veteran whose unit went in to clean up "the road" after the Gulf War.... while he's never been to talkative about either experience... he talks at (ridiculous ;P) length about everything else. They both must have been beyond horrific. It breaks my heart.

  2. Hi. I just found this account of the tornado, and want to thank you for sharing all of these details.
    When this tornado occurred, I was a senior in high school in Kenton County, Kentucky, which is right across the river from Cincinnati. I remember getting home from track practice and standing in the living room door, looking out at the sky which was bizarre yellow-green color. There were reports of possible tornadoes, but none touched in our area. Later, we heard about tornadoes touching down in several locations in Kentucky and then in Xenia. It all seemed quite unreal to me, since I didn't see any of it firsthand. Your account gives me a very good look at what happened to Xenia on that day.


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