The Outbreak of tornadoes of April 3, 1974 – 40 years ago – is burned into the memories of all of us who lived through it. It was the only tornado which was visible from my home in Cincinnati. It wiped out the city of Xenia, Ohio, and made a mess on South Rd. and in Saylor Park. And in the big picture it was one of the most deadly severe weather episodes on record in the continental United States. It by far surpassed tornadoes that came either before or since in terms severity, longevity and extent, until the April 2011 tornadoes. It left a death toll of over 300, this outbreak was the deadliest since the 1930’s.
The Tornado Rips Through Saylor Park in Cincinnati
There were a series of tornadoes that earlier struck parts of southern Indiana from north of Brandenburg, Kentucky, into southwest Ohio. The funnel cloud pictured above in a photo by Andrew Mac Gregor was then crossing the Ohio River. It began shortly before 4:30 pm (Central time) in southeastern Indiana in Ohio County north of Rising Sun near the Ohio River. It then tore through Boone County, Kentucky, before getting to it’s worst in the western suburbs of Cincinnati. I was at a friend’s home when it
was going on so I missed actually seeing it. But it was in fact visible from my home on Lischer Ave. in the Western Hills section of Cincinnati. This sent everyone in our home to the basement. The biggest wreck came in Sayler Park at the western edge of the city. Homes were wiped out in a hilly area near a lake, and boats were thrown and destroyed. A large floating restaurant barge on the Ohio River was lifted up and torn from its moorings, and wound up being recovered several miles downstream. This tornado was shown on TV by Channel 9 WCPO which showed the tornado live to thousands of citizens off the region during special news broadcasts. The storm moved on to the northeast passing though the neighborhoods of Bridgetown (above), Mack, Dent and Delhi. Three people were killed in Hamilton County, and over 100 people were injured.
Xenia, Ohio is Flattened
The city of Xenia, Ohio was nearly wiped out by this treacherous monster storm. Xenia was not very large to begin with, with a population of 27,000. But in fifteen minutes, this small community of proud hard-working citizens had seen a twister cut through 3.5 miles of its center on a path which was 1.5 mile wide. 34 people were killed and over 500 were injured. “We had about thirty seconds warning before it hit.” said one resident. “All you could hear was wind the crashes and people praying.” Peggy Schmidt went onto her front porch with her daughter Michele and saw the funnel coming towards her home as it cut through property in its way. “It looks like it’s full of birds.” her daughter said. “Those aren’t birds.” Peggy said. “That’s debris!!” Mrs. Schmidt and her daughter ran inside. “We went into the downstairs bedroom and opened the sliding glass door, like they said to do so there wouldn’t be any suction. Then we laid
between the two beds. At the last moment we pulled a cover over us.” The wind then exploded the sliding glass doors, and filled the air with a deadly shower of glass particles. The cover saved the Schmidt’ from serious injury, but the entire second floor of their home had been sucked off. Six of the city’s twelve schools were had been reduced to rubble; as can be seen in the photo of Xenia High School above, there was nothing left. Five of the town’s dozen supermarkets had been literally obliterated. Governor John J. Gilligan declared Xenia to be a disaster area, and ordered 250 National Guardsmen into the area to help. President Richard M. Nixon visited the scene and said: “I would say in terms of destruction, just total devastation, this is the worst I have seen.” This disaster spurred the passage in Congress of the Federal Disaster Relief Act. This eventually became the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Do YOU have any memories of the ’74 tornado? Please write in below, or at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it!!
“Darkest Hours: A Narrative Encyclopedia of Worldwide Disasters from Ancient Times to the Present” by Jay Robert Nash, Wallaby Books, New York, 1977