Paris residents remember devastating tornado 39 years later

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PARIS, Texas (KXII) – Kyle McCarley remembers he took a late lunch on April 2 of 1982 and when he returned to work at the Paris Lumber and Building Center he noticed an “eerie stillness” to the air.

“I thought ‘this is a tornado day’,” McCarley said. “We got in our fireproof vault where we kept our records and closed the door.”

McCarley and 35 others, including women and children, shielded themselves in the vault while the twister came through.

“Once we got out we got to looking around to see, and there was a trailer park next to us and a school bus had just arrived and there was a couple of kids in their trailer when the tornado hit it and a cedar tree hit him and caught him like a ball glove and the kid said ‘i can’t feel my legs,’” McCarley said.

Fire department trucks came on scene yelling at the group that they couldn’t go in the storm cellar, to which McCarley replied “fella we’re coming out.”

When they emerged the entire building was on the ground in ruins.

The F4 tornado carved a more than 200 yard wide path through Paris killing ten people, two of which dies at the edge of the Paris Lumber and Building Center where a white piece of wood hangs from a tree to this day.

“We found people two or three days later,” said Cecil Poole, who was bringing a trailer to one of the schools when he saw children on the roof looking into the distance at the tornado headed straight through the middle of town.

“There was a body shop here in east Paris and about three or four years later we were going through Arkansas and had to stop at a station and I looked and the guy had it nailed up on his hog pen and he said it just fell out of the sky one day,” Poole said.

A license plate from Paris, along with pieces of mail, blown a state away.

John Veien was 16 when the twister touched down and ripped right through the street he lives on now. He called it the most scared he’s been in his life.

“We could see the tornado through the trees, probably two miles away,” Veien said. “My Sunday school teacher lost his house just down the block here so it was rough.”

In the aftermath, 465 homes were damaged or destroyed in the tornado 39 years ago. One thousand people were left homeless and the estimated cost of the damage was $50 million but McCarley says the damage could have totaled over $100 million dollars in today’s dollars.

by Mike Rogers (2021, Apr 2)

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Kyrie Wagner