Skip to Content

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


My techers friend

My teachers friend was inside of the tornado and he got tangled up in barb wire and has scars everywhere he miraculously survived

i was also there i suffer

i was also there i suffer still

Modena Morris should be

Modena Morris should be Modena Norris , she was married to Herman D Norris, they were my parents. I lived in Wichita Falls with my husband , we had been married 7 months. Everything is as vivid today as it was that day it was the most horrible time of my life. I still cannot watch tornadoes on the news & don't like to listen to the stories theyr'e always the same. I still wonder what went through my parents minds as they faced their fates that evening.

Terrible Tuesday

I too was one of those airmen, and also remember sitting in my room looking out the window and wondering why it was so still outside, no noise, no birds chirping weird. 2 minutes later we were told to grab our mattresses and head to the first floor hallway. We all gathered in trucks and went into Wichita Falls to help, the devastation was unbelievable, the worst disaster I have ever witnessed. We went to our first sergeants house and his wife and kid were trapped in the bath tub; a 2x4 had penetrated the exterior wall and had pinned them down luckily they had pulled a mattress over the top of them for protection.

15 years later I returned to Sheppard AFB as a technical instructor. There was a civilian lady working in the office and upon her shelf was a book about Terrible Tuesday, it was I believe assembled by the town. In it were pictures of all the military help. Ironically I turned to a page and found a picture of myself on one of the trucks. I wish I could find a copy of this book I would love to keep it as reminder of that terrible time.

if anyone has seen this book please let me know I will would willing to pay for it or get copies of the pictures etc.

Seems Like Just Yesterday...

I was one of the Airman mentioned from Sheppard AFB. I remember sitting in the office where I worked in the afternoons after classes were done when the sirens went off. They had us drag our mattresses off of our beds and huddle beneath them in the hallways. I was Airman of the Month that April and attended several functions with the Base Commander to extend our condolences and offer our support. I remember so many of us piling into trucks and heading into town to help with clearing debris and directing traffic. It was a horrible thing and my heart still aches for the folks who lost so much. The destruction in Joplin, MO brings it all back.

Nancy was my friend

I don't know how I came upon this site. I guess because I was watching storm chasers and it brings back so many memories. Nancy and I were close during nursing school. We spent alot of time studing together and having fun together. I think of her often. We became close probably we both were not from Texas. Please contact me I would like to talk with you. I have some pictures of Nancy from Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I hope they did correct her name. I remember how they had it wrong on the news also.

debbie reitan

April 10th

I was 7 when the tornado hit. We lived right off Barnett Road across the street from the stadium so we were the first area hit. My mom was cooking dinner and my dad was not home from work yet. My brother and I were watching the storm coverage on the news. My brother went outside to look at the storm and I noticed nearly every man in the neighborhood was out there too. My brother came back in and took my mom outside to look. I will never forget the look on her face when she came tearing back into the house dragging my brother by the arm. She shouted at us to get in the bathroom and she closed the front door and locked it. : ) We found out later that my dad had pulled up in the driveway when she did that and had to fish out his keys to unlock the house. By the time my dad got in the house, all of us in the bathtub, and a mattress over us, the tornado hit. It went over once and my dad stood up to look. My mom shouted for him to sit down and just as he did the other side of the tornado came over. I can't even begin to describe what it sounded like. There's nothing like it. We had brick and debris fall into the bathtub will us and I have no doubt that that mattress saved our lives. When we began to emerge, we saw that our roof was gone, there was a pick-up truck on top of my brother's bunk beds, and the hallway was blocked. We ended up crawling out of the window in my bedroom. Fortunately, no one was hurt in my family or on our street except our dog. She was so banged up, one of the neighbors used his pistol to put her down. I don't remember it but my mom said she heard a woman screaming and wailing from a little ways off. Turns out that was a lady a few streets over that lost one of her twin daughters. I do remembering the after being really quiet and still. I don't know how long we milled around. But, my uncle showed up. He walked up Barnett Road from his house on Sierra Madre. I don't remember it all but ended up at my Aunt and Uncles house for the night. Afterwards, I found out that my grandparents in Seymour heard about the tornados and got in their car and essentially followed it over so they were there about the time we made it to my Aunt and Uncles house. We were blessed in that everyone in our family and friend group were all ok. It was definately a defining experience. I have never been the same about storms.

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.

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.

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. :)

article | by Dr. Radut