Remembering Xenia tornado devastation, 45 years later

A collection of dramatic photographs from the Dayton Daily News archive documents — in gritty black and white — the devastation a tornado left in Xenia on April 3, 1974.

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Gripping images of the 1974 Xenia tornado.

A series of violent tornadoes wreaked havoc in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. The system was part of “Super Outbreak,” according to the National Weather Service, which documented 148 tornadoes in 13 states in the eastern United States. 

The deadliest twister in the outbreak, an F-5, descended on Greene County, bulldozing a path a half-mile wide. When it was over, 33 people were dead and more than 1,300 were injured.

A mother and daughter run throuhg the rubble that had been their home in the Arrowhead sub division of Xenia Ohio. A second tornado warning had just been given and many of the survivors just ran in panic.Photo by Ed Roberts
Photo: Eddie H. Roberts/Dayton Daily Ne

The images, taken 45 years ago, are a legacy of the tornado’s wrath. 

A black sky looms over homes in a residential neighborhood in a dramatic photograph taken shortly before the tornado touched down. That image, taken moments before the annihilation began, is in sharp contrast to an aerial photo of homes and businesses smashed to the ground the next day.

Expressions, some alarmed and some dazed, are captured on the faces of Xenia residents trying to escape the destruction, giving aid to others, and exploring their ruined town that no longer seemed familiar. 

» RELATED: A look back at 5 tornadoes that struck the Miami Valley in 2016

» INTERACTIVE: Path of destruction of 17 tornadoes in 1974

On April 3, 1974 an F-5 tornado tore through the heart of Xenia, killing 33 people and injuring more than 1,300 others. It bulldozed a path more than a half-mile wide, destroying or damaging more than 1,400 buildings, including 1,200 homes, dozens of businesses, 10 churches, and several schools. By the time it lifted into the sky near Cedarville, it left behind more than $100 million of damage in Greene County. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

Train cars were tossed on their sides, schools and grocery stores were destroyed and limbs were ripped from trees leaving bare and broken trunks. 

A photograph of a quaint home, curtains fluttering in the windows, reveals an everyday living room with a couch in front of a television set topped by rabbit ears and books neatly placed on shelves in a second floor bedroom. 

The only thing missing from this mundane scene is the exterior wall of the home, ripped off to expose everyday life.

» RELATED: ‘Xenia Lives’ decades after the tornado

» RELATED: ‘The sky was a color I could not remember seeing before’: Community shares stories of 1974 Xenia tornado

This scene was photographed near Warner Junior High School on April 25, 1974. On April 3, 1974 an F-5 tornado tore through the heart of Xenia, killing 33 people and injuring more than 1,300 others. It bulldozed a path more than a half-mile wide, destroying or damaging more than 1,400 buildings, including 1,200 homes, dozens of businesses, 10 churches, and several schools. By the time it lifted into the sky near Cedarville, it left behind more than $100 million of damage in Greene County. DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVE

A hand-painted sign, photographed in front of a gutted Warner Junior High School, summed up the resilience of the community, “With the help of the Lord, good friends and hard work, we shall return.”

>> WHIO meteorologist Gil Whitney credited with saving lives during 1974 tornado

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