Eyewitnesses remember Amarillo’s tornado 70 years later

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AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) – It may have occurred seven decades ago, but the 1949 Amarillo tornado left an impression on many Amarillo residents that will never go away.

“A tornado had hit in south Amarillo, much destruction had occurred,” Virginia Gibson wrote in her diary, a high school student in 1949. “When dad could finally get home, he was called out to go back to work to restore the electricity and get the wires up out of the water.”

Jackie Nall, a youngster in Amarillo during the tornado recalled, “That night we packed into a little bitty linen closet. Our house was a small one and had one clothes closet and one little linen closet that happened to be large enough for me to be poked in. So my Mom grabbed me, stuck me in the linen closet and packed pillows and towels and sheets and whatever else they could get around me.”

Memories are still vivid for Tommie Nell Townsend, “I just remember I was a young child and my parents had built a house and so I loved that house. They said, ‘Come outside and look at this.’ So that’s when I looked out and saw that green cloud and that’s what I always remember. And then I remember the hail breaking all the windows. I thinks that’s the most frightening part was the hail just crack, crack, crack! And there wasn’t anyplace to go.”

The emotional impact from witnessing such a tragedy is just never forgotten.

“All the house, just roofs blown off of them, some were just in terrible shape. Cars just up against the houses,” remembered Virginia Gibson.

“Things were just pile up,” added Betty Wilkie, a classmate of Gibson’s. “The roofs were off, the trees were down. It was a mess I tell you. It was a mess.”

Jackie Nall recounted, “There was quite a bit of damage. I remember there were houses and some businesses damaged there. It kind of looked like it went right down Polk Street in that area.”

After devastating much of the city, Anna Marie Wink remembers the damage that the tornado inflicted on her property just northeast of town.

“There was one cloud up there, just one and it was funny because it made a shadow,” said Wink. “About that time the wind picked up and it was dirty, man it was dirty! But it had blown the combine into the truck down in the field. The pig shed was gone. Clear gone, it had picked the shed up, it dumped it on a hog house, hit the barn and knocked a hole in it. You could see boards and then it dumped it out in this field.”

Even those not directly struck by the tornado remember the intensity of that evening and the concern for others they had at that time.

Tommie Lee Townsend relived the evening saying, “My older sister had gone to babysit for my cousin who lived two houses down from Alice Landergin. She took the kids and went to the front of the house. When it was all over, the back of the house was completely gone.”

One thing in common for all of those impacted from that time forward is the utter respect for the power of tornadoes.

“It seemed like there wasn’t any air to breathe and it’s not something I would ever want to go through again,” said Wink. “After that, I took tornadoes seriously.”

by Dave Oliver (2019, May 15 | Updated 2019, May 16) KTRE

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Kyrie Wagner