Xenia tornado timeline: How the deadly 1974 twister tore through the city

The Xenia tornado on April 3, 1974, was the strongest storm in the string of deadly twisters that touched down from Alabama to southeastern Canada.

The F5 tornado led to the death of 32 people, injured another 1,300 and caused an estimated $100 million in damages in Xenia alone. Nearly 1,400 buildings, including seven schools, were damaged or destroyed in the storm that affected half the city.

» PHOTOS: Devastating images from the 1974 Xenia tornado

A Dayton Daily News story published a few days later, on April 7, laid out the details of what it was like when the storm hit town, calling it “The wind of death.”

Here’s a glimpse of what happened that Wednesday afternoon, as the tornado arrived:

3:03 p.m.

John Steiner, 16, and his 1,500 classmates at Xenia High School were dismissed for the day: “I went home, then I went down to the donut shop on South Detroit Street and we were in the back playing pinball, and the lights went out.”

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

Steiner went outside, looked up and saw full-sized trees circling through the air above the buildings across the street.

“I said, ‘Wow, what a bummer!’ and thought I better go back inside,” he said at the time.

Later at his home he saw that the chimney had blown over and caved in the roof.

3:45 p.m.

Margaret Lorenzo, a dispatcher at the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, left work early to have her hair done at Lucille’s Beauty Shop on West Main Street.

Once there, she and nine other women in the shop heard a tornado warning on the radio, got down on the floor in the back room and came out unscathed.

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News archive

3:50 p.m.

The National Weather Service Severe Storm Center in Kansas City issued a bulletin over its teletype.

That same day there had been a severe thunderstorm watch at 9:40 a.m., a severe weather statement at 9:45 a.m., a tornado watch at 11:05 a.m. and additional severe thunderstorm warnings at 11:15 and 11:40 a.m.

4 p.m.

National Weather Service radar in Cincinnati spotted a tornado’s tell-tale “hook” sign, like the numeral “6,” about halfway between there and Xenia. “A possible tornado,” was how it was described.

4:07 p.m.

WLW-D meteorologist Bob Breck interrupted regular programming to broadcast the tornado warning on Channel 2. Other television and radio stations followed almost immediately.

4:30 p.m.

The funnel touched down in the Bellbrook area.

4:40 p.m.

The Arrowhead Homes subdivision, downtown Xenia, Wilberforce and the Cedarville area were ravaged.

4:50 p.m.

Retired couple Alfred and Doresa Townsley had been watching the skies from their Cedarville home. From their front yard they spotted a large piece of barn “spiraling around just like a kite” toward them, and they decided to head indoors. They opened their windows and stood in a corner. Their clocks stopped at 4:53 p.m.

At the same time, their neighbor’s barn and doghouse went up into the sky — leaving the dog unhurt.

5:10 p.m.

Injured people began arriving at Greene Memorial Hospital, a 275-bed facility that the tornado had missed by one block. They came in private cars, pickup trucks and vans driven by fellow Xenia residents who had volunteered to help.

5:15 p.m.

The power went out and the clock stopped in the Madison County Jail at London, 30 miles northeast of Xenia.

Sheriff Herbert Markley, just before losing power, relayed a message to Franklin County that “Xenia needed all the help they could get.” He then herded his wife, two children and two small granddaughters into the cellar of the jail.

5:19 p.m. The State Highway Patrol received a National Warning Service (NAWAS) phone call notifying them a tornado had touched down.

5:30 p.m.

Hospital staffers realized the severity of the situation. “We had treated 50 people in less than half an hour,” hospital information director Fred Stewart said at the time.

When the emergency power went off temporarily, X-rays were read outdoors by twilight and suturing inside the hospital was done by flashlight.

6 p.m.

A woman near Plain City, 48 miles from Xenia, called the sheriff to report that “the sky had opened up” and dropped paper, metal and wooden debris over her yard. Some of it carried Xenia’s name.

Debris from Xenia later was found in Delaware, Mt. Gilead, Mansfield and as far north as Chagrin Falls, more that 200 miles from Xenia.

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