XENIA — Forty-four years ago today the City of Xenia was leveled by a powerful F5 tornado.
The twister, part of one of the worst tornado breakouts in US history, injured 1,150 and destroyed some 1,400 buildings, about half of those in Xenia. Nine schools, nine churches and nearly 180 businesses were destroyed.
It was the second-largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period and was also the most violent outbreak recorded with 30 F4/F5 tornadoes confirmed. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US and Ontario, Canada.
Tornadoes struck Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia and New York. The entire outbreak caused more than $600 million (in 1974 dollars) in damage in the US alone, and extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles according to online reports. At one point, as many as 15 separate tornadoes were ongoing at the same time.
According to reports, the tornado formed near Bellbrook at about 4:30 p.m. As it moved to the northeast at about 50 miles per hour, it intensified in strength. The multi-vortex structure grew larger as it approached Xenia. It flattened the western part of Xenia.
Xenia had no tornado sirens back then, but many were installed after, which helped alert residents to the September 2000 F4 tornado that hit the city, following a parallel path just north of the 1974 tornado path.
Here is an excerpt of the story written by Jack Jordan and Randy Blackaby, which was published in the Xenia Daily Gazette April 4, 1974.
“The downtown business district sustained varying degrees of damage. Some businesses were leveled to a point where identification could be made only by familiarity with the location and memories.
For example, all that could be found of what was once the Mr. Donut Shop on N. Allison Ave. were the stools, standing alone like mushrooms, with the building nowhere in sight.
Across the street, the Kroehler Mfg. Co. exemplified the terrific impact. A tractor-trailer rig was blown approximately 100 yards onto the roof of the Community Lanes Bowling Alley across the street.
To the east, the wreckage of the Penn-Central freight train gained most attention. It ad been lifted from the tracks and thrown into the Kroger Store parking lot and onto a nearby used car lot. Several fatalities are said connected with this. The Kroger store was obliterated.
North from the center of town, James Super Valu store, 52. E. Market St., was destroyed, and almost all of the older homes on N. Detroit Street were in ruins all the way to Ankeney Mill Road.
Little was left of Xenia High School as the mighty winds heaved school buses into the structure. Central Junior High School sustained heavy damage, but nothing like the high school.
Police reported six schools were destroyed, but they were not named.
If the disaster had occurred a could hours earlier, students would have been in the buildings.
Marshall Drive residences were reduced to lowly piles of broken lumber and Stadium Heights suffered much the same.
But undoubtedly the greatest destruction was in the Arrowhead subdivision where block after block of small brick homes were flattened in an area about halfway between Bellbrook Avenue and W. Second Street. In many instances it was almost impossible to determine houses ever existed.”
A total of 35 were killed — 33 the day of the tornado and two who who died later as a result of the storm. At the time the damage was estimated at $100 million, which would be closer to a half billion in today’s dollars.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.