Today in Texas History – May 11

From the Annals of the Twisters –  In 1953, a massive tornado killed 114 people in Waco.   The tornado was the strongest (F5 on the Fujita scale) and deadliest of a series of at least 33 tornados that struck central Texas over a three day period. The tornado’s winds reached speeds of 300 mph and destroyed or damaged over 600 houses, 1000 other buildings and 2000 vehicles.  In addition to those killed another 597 were injured.

According to an old Huaco Native American legend, tornadoes could not touch down in Waco.   There was some truth to the legend as most storms in the area travel from west to east and split around the Waco area due to the bluffs around the Brazos River, making tornadoes relatively rare in the city. The 1953 storm, however, traveled against the prevailing winds, and the tornado approached Waco from the North-Northeast.

Over half the victims were killed in a single city block bounded by 4th and 5th streets and Austin and Franklin avenues.   Due to a heavy thunderstorm, many people were seeking shelter in downtown buildings.  One such building was the five-story Dennis Building which was directly in the path of the twister.   The building was practically destroyed in seconds when the tornado struck leaving dozens of people trapped beneath its ruins.  Twenty-two people died in the Dennis Building alone. 

Before and after photo from http://www.ustornados.com

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