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Wichita Falls, TX Tornado Devastates Texas, Apr 1979

One Mile Wide Tornado Tornado In Wichita Falls Wichita Falls Damage Area Tornado Near Seymour, Texas


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.

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."

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:
Wichita Falls:
HARRY L. JONES, 74, Little Rock, Ark.
DEFOREST CLAPP, 61, 4336 Hughes.
CHARLES GILE, 50 to 60 years old.
KELLY LEE HULL, female, 20.
L. F. LITTEKEN, 50 to 60 years old.
PEARL MORRIS, about 60.
KARI MARISA SWIFT, 5, 5200 Tower.
"BUNNY" GILL, Vernon.
JACK AVANT, Grandfield, Okla.
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


April 10 '79

I was there that day, sitting on the roof of my home (we lived at the extreme western edge of town) watching for a tornado (we'd heard of the Vernon tornado and I'd never seen one before). Watched the whole thing unfold, something I'll never forget.

Fortunately, our home was spared - the northern edge of the tornado missed our home by about a quarter-mile - but the way the city came together afterward was even more incredible.

Hard to believe it's been 30 years...

I was 3 and a half years

I was 3 and a half years old, and I won't ever forget it either.

I was 8 years old. You dont

I was 8 years old. You dont ever forget something like that. I remember it like it was yesterday. We lived on Kemp st. And my parents were at work, they came home to get me and my sister. We ended up at the country club where they worked. We were down in the golf cart storage. Luckily our home was spared. We took in some people who didnt have anywhere to go.

my family was in that

my family was in that tornado. my mom was like seven years old at the time. i trip out whenever i hear of bad storms coming.

April 10, 1979

I lived in Knox City, Tx at the time, but was with a friend at the mall that day. I was 19 yrs old. We were waiting to watch a movie, just sitting in the mall when some man from the organ store next to JC Penney came out and told us what was happening. He said we needed to come to his store that he had a room with no windows. I think they gave us quilts to put over us. My friend insisted that I look outside at the tornados...I think I heard there were 3 in 1. I didn't want to look, but he told me they were going to hit whether I looked or I was huge and seemed to cover all the sky that I could see! We laid on the floor with all the other people and prayed! When it was over, there was a wall completely gone in that little room. There were electrical wires hanging everywhere. People paniced and said it was coming back, so we went into another store and took cover, but soon realized it wasn't. We left the car there, afraid to drive it home...I didn't know what I should do because of ins. and all of that....what can I say, I was young! I left everything in my car....had rock and country 8-track tapes in there...when I went back for my car another day, someone had taken all of my rock 8-tracks! lol My friend and I scraped up enough money to get bus tickets home...we were a little short but they let us have the tickets anyway. Some man from a gas station (I think it was a Texaco station), down from the mall gave us a ride to the bus station. Funny how you remember all the little details!

I listend to my mom as she

I listend to my mom as she told me about how the tornado went right over her head at the mall and that it was the scariest thing of her life

April 10, 1979 - People who died in the tornado.

Please correct the spelling of my sister's name, "NANCY RODOWALD". Nancy died in the tornado. Her name is Nancy Lynne Rodawalt, 22 yrs. old, and was a nursing student at Bethania Regional Health Care Center. She is buried in Frederick, Oklahoma.

Thanks for your corrections.

Valarie J. Rodawalt

I was in that

I was 1.5 years old. Our home was spared. It was my parents' anniversary. The drove around after it happened and said it was awful. One of our close family friends had a person land in their living room screaming for help. My dad still tells me about that day. We laugh cause my sister had run and grabbed her hamster before getting in the tub. My brother ran and got his stamp collection and a bible. He was well prepared. :)

Tornado Wichita Falls Texas 1979

I lived there when the tornado hit Wichita Falls. I was 19 and lived close to Seymore Hwy (its been 32 years I cant remember the correct spelling). We (jody) and I were listen to the radio. He went outside and got on the roof to look around. The last thing the radio station said before there was silent was "a tornado just touched down west of the stadium". I ran outside to tell Jody and as I looked up I could see all the clouds rapidly moving west. It was like a super vaccum cleaner was sucking the clouds into one direction. As I paused in amazement I could see debre floating and twearling in the air. At that moment I had a flash back to that movie the Wizard of Oz.. Jody and I knew our old wooden rent house would not stand a chance so we did something really stupid, hey were kids. We got in his old firebird I think it was a 75 or so, well I not sure about the year but it was red. We drove to the end of the street which could have been 4th street and as we turned left to head down the hill I saw it. The image I will never forget it was just starting to hit the ground. Again it looked like the tornado in the Wizard of Oz all wiggly with stuff swirling around itnas it hit the ground. We were 10 miles or so away but it looked like it was 10 blocks away. As we drove to Seymore Hwy hail the size of soft balls (no exzageration) hit the car 6 or more at a time. We pulled in under the Dairy queen where we were safe from the hail it passed over us. Thank you Lord! We then went to Jody's Moms apartment and found devastation and then we when to his sister (Susie's) house to find there catarmaran on top of there car. All of the houses behind and next to there house were slabs, only there house stood with debre from miles around it. We thought we would be pulling there bodies and there 2 small children from the wreckage. But as we got out of the car all 4 of them walked out of the house with out a scratch. I could hear people crying in the streets and dogs running free and total chaos for weeks. We were very lucky that he had spared us.

My home was in Colonial Park

My home was in Colonial Park and my parents came roaring up in their car shortly after the electricity went off and then the sirens stopped. My father got my family into the car over my protests. I was yelling for them to come back in the house. I decided to be with my family and ran to the car. We raced to the intersection of Weeks and Midwestern Pkwy and at that point the tornado was hitting the mall. We made a U turn and made it part way back down Weeks Park Dr. At that point the car started to lift and we jumped out and ran onto the golf course and jumped into the creek bed. As I turned and looked up the tornado blew the roof off of the house by our car which was in the street next to us. At that point I knew I would die. I put my head down and was whispering to my son. I didn't want him to be frightened. The Lord spared us with only one minor injury. The house on the street behind my house was gone. Nothing left but a slab. My house had major damage with parts of the roof gone. How the storm spared some and took others made no sense. Some did the proper thing and died. We were dumb and were spared.

article | by Dr. Radut