Forty-four years ago today the lives of thousands were changed and the fabric of a community was uprooted by one of the most devastating tornadoes to ever hit the southwestern Ohio. The storm struck at the heart of Greene County, Ohio and in its path was the community of Xenia.
Thirty three people were killed when the twister swept through at 4:40 in the afternoon. More than 1,300 were injured and thousands more climbed from their shelters in shock and bewilderment.
The storm struck with little warning. If not for WHIO-TV/Channel 7 weatherman Gil Whitney taking the initiative to warn people of the storm, many more lives would likely have been lost that day. From that day forward, Whitney was revered in the community for his live-saving actions.
On this day, forty-four years ago, I was laying beneath a mattress in the downstairs bathroom of my parents’ home in Beavercreek. Radar wasn’t as precise as it is today and we had no way of knowing which direction the dangerous storm was heading. All my dad heard on the TV was the storm was heading to eastern/central Greene County. We were lucky it missed our community.
I remember in the days that followed, driving through Xenia with my mom and grandma, seeing the devastation with my own eyes. I remember train cars on their side, the smell of split wood, massive uprooted trees, a strong gas odor and the sound of helicopters flying overhead.
I don’t recall what Xenia was like before the storm. I was too young to remember the quaint downtown, the tree lined streets of the now historic neighborhoods, or the many churches that served the communities for decades. All I remember is seeing many of these landmarks destroyed or completely missing from the landscape.
Today, I’ve made Xenia my home. Like any small community it has it’s challenges but it’s making strides. But Xenia indeed, LIVES. There is a revitalization taking place and people are working hard to make the community shine.
Below is a documentary I wrote and produced while working at WHIO-TV/Newscenter 7 in 2004. The images captured of the storm are moving and the actual audio of the storm is surreal.