Speakers at Xenia tornado ceremony honor victims, remember community resilience

50th anniversary commemoration held in front of courthouse in downtown Xenia

Speakers at a Wednesday ceremony marking the 50th anniversary of the devastating tornado that struck Xenia and Wilberforce on April 3, 1974, said the disaster led to changes in weather forecasting and showed how a community can pull together and prevail.

“That day did bring us all together and made us all neighbors,” said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who as a 27-year-old assistant Greene County prosecutor sheltered in the basement of the prosecutor’s office building as the twister tore off the roof.

DeWine spoke at the remembrance ceremony held in front of the Greene County Courthouse on East Main Street.

DeWine and other speakers spoke of the tragedy of the lives lost, the ways that people pulled together to help each other in the wake of the disaster and how the city rebuilt itself.

“(That) spirit of resilience in Xenia that carries us forward today,” said City Manager Brent Merriman.

Thirty-five people died as a result of the F5 tornado, including two Ohio National Guard members killed in a fire in the aftermath of the tornado and one person who died six days later. More than 1,300 people sought hospital treatment. The tornado did major damage to the city of Xenia and Central State and Wilberforce universities.

Part of a ”super outbreak” that hit several states, the tornado in Greene County reached wind speeds of up to 300 mph and left an estimated $100 million in property damage, according to Dayton Daily News archives.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

Bill Bunting, deputy director of the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center and Tom Johnstone, meteorologist-in-charge at the NWS in Wilmington both talked about the impact the tornado in Xenia and others that day had on the weather service and forecasting.

Bunting said it was a defining day for colleagues, and led to immediate changes, including the addition of backup generators at NWS facilities and improved radar, as well as a longer-term full-scale modernization such as the introduction of Doppler radar.

“The science has grown tremendously,” Bunting said. “Those advances continue today.”

Xenia Mayor Sarah Mays paid tribute to those who lost their lives and those who stayed to rebuild the city as she declared Wednesday as April 3, 1974, Tornado Remembrance Day.

The city also is hosting a gallery of memorabilia in the City Administration Building second floor lobby, 107 E. Main St. during normal business hours in April.

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Xenia resident Rich Jackson, 67, attended the remembrance ceremony and recalled his shock that day as he drove home from work after the tornado, meeting up with his dad who was driving people to the hospital.

“The devastation was unbelievable,” said Jackson, in an interview prior to the ceremony. “I’ll never forget it.”

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Credit: Marshall Gorby

Staff writers Nick Blizzard and London Bishop contributed to this report.

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