Wichita Falls, TX Tornado Devastates Texas, Apr 1979
CRIPPLED WICHITA FALLS LIMPING BACK.
Wichita Falls, Texas (AP) -- Stunned by loss of life and crippled by power outages, Wichita Falls limped toward normal today while its mayor remained fearful of fires and an increase in the number of deaths caused by a mammouth killer tornado.
Mayor KENNETH HILL said power had been restored to about 50 percent of the city's 100,000 residents but water pressure was still too low to fight fires from the city's hydrants.
HILL said the death count remains at 42. But, he said, it still could rise to 100. No more bodies had been found by late this morning, he added.
As many as 8,000 residents were left homeless, the mayor estimated. He said there was no estimate yet as to how many were missing. Hundreds of persons were injured, and power and water in all of the city were knocked out for 24 hours.
Residents in Vernon, where a twister killed 11 and caused heavy property damage, and Harrold, where one died in a tornado, also tried to get their lives and property back in shape.
Dozens of search teams, bolstered by airmen from nearby Sheppard Air Force Base, continued today to comb Wichita Falls' ravaged area, a swath eight miles long and more than a mile wide in some areas through the heavily populated southern sections of the city.
"Maybe I'm speaking more from a standpoint of fear than knowledge. I just don't see how we can keep from having more (deaths). It's a huge area," HILL said.
"We'd been in terrible shape if we had had a fire. We'd just have to let it burn," he said.
An emergency curfew aimed at preventing looting was in effect in the city last night. HILL said three persons -- two adults and one juvenille -- were arrested and charged with looting.
"That's really not many at all," the mayor said.
Except for Red Cross shelters and National Guard jeeps, the downtown area appeared virtually normal today. Traffic signals again were operating, some gas stations were pumping precious fuels and retail businesses were open.
As reports of looting and price gouging flowed in, the city council passed the emergency curfew ordinance Wednesday night setting a citywide curfew and freezing the costs of all essential items.
Sen. JOHN TOWER, R-Texas, returned to his hometown and said, "I've seen the damage of hurricanes, a tornado, of American bombers over Japan, but I never have seen one equal to this in terms of damage."
Texas Gov. BILL CLEMENTS toured the site by helicopter Wednesday and estimated damages between $200 and $300 million. He said he would ask for federal disaster aid.
More than 500 persons were crammed into the rooms and wards and halls of Wichita Falls' two hospitals. JAMES LEE, medical coordinator for the Red Cross, said all would require surgery, hospitalization and extended doctors' care.
Another 200 persons were treated for minor injuries at emergency aid stations.
About 60 persons were hurt in the Vernon twister.
Partial power was restored Wednesday night in downtown Wichita Falls, but the residential areas were still dark.
This tornado was the worst in Texas since May 11, 1953, when a twister swirled across downtown Waco, in the heart of the state, killing 114 persons, injuring 597 and leaving behind $41.1 million in damage.
SURVIVOR RECALLS HUGE WICHITA FALLS TORNADO.
Wichita Falls, Texas (AP) -- "My God, it was huge," ELLEN GAHANAN said of the tornado that roared through Wichita Falls Tuesday.
"When you are laying on your stomach with stuff falling all over you, you don't fell like your're going to make it."
MRS. GAHANAN made it, stretched out in her home as the roof was ripped away and nothing was left but a shell.
MRS. M. J. FRANCIS sat in a wooden chair next to what had been her home. Only a door frame and part of a wall remained. The 65-year-old nurse was another survivor of the twisters that killed 42 persons in this North Central Texas city and left 12 others dead in two nearby communities.
"My nerves are so shot I want to go to my daughter's, but her house was destroyed too," MRS. FRANCIS said.
"My faith is stronger than ever because God saved me and our kids," JACKIE PATTERSON said.
When the roar of the storm was heard, MRS. PATTERSON and her two teen-aged children went next door and there with the neighbors huddled in a hallway with pillows over their heads for protection from the flying debris.
ED BIGGS and his wife stood in front of their damaged home and were able to joke about the disaster.
The couple had taken shelter in the bathtub and MRS. BIGGS said, "In 30-odd years of marriage it was the first time I've been able to get him in the tub with me."
What had been home to J. C. CLOSE and his wife for 28 years was now a mound of rubble.
"We were just fortunate the Lord spared our lives," MRS. CLOSE said.
Her husband rememberd, "It happened so fast. We saw the clouds coming in and jumped in the pickup and went on down to my mother's, since she had a cellar."
The three crawled into the protected area and held each other.
"It liked to blowed us out of there," CLOSE said.
JOHN HARASIMO was watching television when the set went black.
He looked out the window "and I saw this red car screech to a stop and people started bailing out and jumped under a culvert. I went outside and there was this huge cloud, and I could see clothes, parts of cars, floating up into it. I saw a door being scooped up into the cloud and I ran to the culvert."
"About 20 of us were there. It was hell. Some of the women started screaming and crying and I was hit by tree stumps and other stuff."
TORNADO DEATH LIST.
Austin, Texas (AP) -- The Texas Department of Public Safety has released the names of 42 persons known to be victims of the tornado in Wichita Falls and of 11 persons known dead at Vernon.
The DPS revised its list Wednesday night, saying four names should be stricken from its previous fatality list: JOE AYERS, whose body later was identified as that of HARRY L. JONES; RENEE GRAVES; a MRS. LEACH; and CHRISTY REASOR.
The DPS also revised three names: a MRS. GLANCE should be spelled MRS. GLANTZ; TERRY SWIFT should be shown as AUDREY MICHELLE SWIFT; and KERRY SWIFT should be shown as KARI MARCIA SWIFT.
The death list:
J. R. ASTON.
HARRY L. JONES, 74, Little Rock, Ark.
DEFOREST CLAPP, 61, 4336 Hughes.
CHARLES GILE, 50 to 60 years old.
ANNA GLANTZ, 70.
MARY ANNA GRAVES.
KELLY LEE HULL, female, 20.
L. F. LITTEKEN, 50 to 60 years old.
PEARL MORRIS, about 60.
AUDRY MICHELLE SWIFT, 11, 5200 Tower.
KARI MARISA SWIFT, 5, 5200 Tower.
J. B. SWINDLE.
DENNIS THORP, 71.
GRACE ODEM THORP, 69.
MICHAEL DAVID LIGGINS, early 20s.
L. C. SMITH.
HERMAN D. NORRIS.
BECKY STANDRIDGE, 23.
CHRISTOPHER COX, 8.
WANDA ASTON, 51.
MARIE ISABEL SAIKOWSKI, 50.
"BUNNY" GILL, Vernon.
DONNA SHELTON, Vernon.
LOU ANNE SHELTON, Vernon.
MRS. CLYDE BAGLEY, Vernon.
GREGORY MARTINEZ, Vernon.
JACK AVANT, Grandfield, Okla.
CECILIA NESON, Thalia.
MRS. JEANIE COLLINS, Albuquerque, N. M.
JAMES NORTON, Olustee, Okla.
MRS. JAMES NORTON, Olustee, Okla.
MRS. VIVIAN KELLY, Earth, Texas.
BEN WILLIA, Wichita Falls.
The Paris News Texas 1979-04-12
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!