Xenia tornado remembered 40 years later

By Rob Treynor

April 3, 2014

Forty years ago, when President Richard Nixon made an unannounced visit to the town of Xenia, Ohio, he said, “As I look back over the disasters, I saw the earthquake in Anchorage in 1964; I saw the hurricanes… Hurricane Camille in 1969 down in Mississippi and I saw Hurricane Agnes in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. And it is hard to tell the difference among them all, but I would say in terms of destruction, just total devastation, this is the worst I have seen.”

A mile-wide tornado, rated F5, obliterated a large chunk of Xenia, 40 years ago today. The disaster killed 34 people (including two Ohio National Guardsmen who died days later in a related fire), injured an additional 1,150, destroyed almost half of the city’s buildings, and left 10,000 people homeless.

Forty miles up U.S. Route 42, in London, the Xenia tornado was losing steam, but still did over a million dollars of damage to downtown London, including extensive damage to the Madison County courthouse and its clock tower.

A week after the tornado, damage was still being assessed in London.

“I don’t know how many homes were damaged. Uptown many buildings’ roofs have more damage than meets the eye,” said Jack Kunkle, Madison County’s Civil Defense director to The Madison Press on April 10.

As the storm progressed north, a mobile home in Canaan Community Trailer Park did a “somersault” in the high wind, landing on the owner’s car.

Further up U.S. Route 42, in Unionville Center, Perry Snyder found a sheet of letterhead stationery from Xenia Cab Co., a patio umbrella, child’s game box and pieces of plywood. One sheet of plywood was still wedged in a nearby treetop. Snider told The Plain City Advocate in April of 1974 that he could look in the sky and see numerous flying objects in the sky and dropping to the ground.

Even further north, in Marysville, then-five-year-old Titus Hostetler found a checkbook from a Xenia family in his front yard, 60 miles away from Xenia.

The Xenia tornado was part of a storm system now known as “The Super Outbreak.” It remains the most violent tornado outbreak ever recorded. Within an 18 hour period, 148 tornadoes were confirmed in the American mid-west, with 30 classified as F4 or F5.

The death toll from the Super Outbreak reached 319.

A new display, curated by Frank Slagle, at the Madison County Senior Center helps to keep the memory alive of that devastating day.

Pieces of the Madison County Courthouse, salvaged from the courthouse lawn following the tornado, are on display.

The Madison County Senior Center is located at 280 W. High St. in London. The center is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 9 p.m. during Bingo on Wednesdays. For more information, contact the Madison County Senior Center at (740) 852-3001.

Rob Treynor may be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 19 or via Twitter @RobTreynor