Xenia Tornado of 1974

April 19, 2011
By

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.

The Xenia tornado was part of a super outbreak, when 148 twisters swept across several states, killing 335 people in a 16-hour period on April 3-4, 1974. It still ranks as one of the largest natural disasters in American history, with Xenia the hardest hit community.

The Xenia subdivision of “Arrowhead” was especially hard-hit, the tornado leaving it in ruins. The 4-year-old subdivision on the city’s southwest side lost more than 300 homes, many on concrete slabs with no basements.

Greene Memorial Hospital in northeast Xenia narrowly escaped the tornado’s wrath, but lost its power and telephone service and its water quality was suspect. About 500 people were treated there in the first 24 hours, 34 of them being admitted with a number transferred to hospitals in nearby Dayton for treatment.

Twenty-six years later another tornado (an F-4) struck at an unusual time – early autumn and after dark – on September 20, 2000. The tornado would follow an eerily familiar path of destruction through Xenia, killing one man and destroying or damaging more than 300 homes and 30 businesses.

*Material from the Dayton Daily News Archive was used to compose this blog entry.

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41 Responses to Xenia Tornado of 1974

  1. Jay on April 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Great post. I really enjoyed the pictures.

  2. Joyce on April 20, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    I remember this day well. I was 14 and living in Dayton. I was riding my bike that afternoon and an older man came out of his house and said “Girl, you better get home because a storm is coming”. I pedaled as fast as I could and I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz. That turned out to be too close to the truth. We had friends who lost their house and others who had damage but thankfully all our friends were safe.

    • stuart on June 22, 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Yeah, my mom drove from store to home. She saw a huge black cloud and tornado touchdown from 30 miles visibility from Kettering,OH. I used lived there until 1975. I was about 10 years old that time happened. My school offered for field trip to Xenia to see what is like tornado wiped out. It was horrible.

      Stuart
      Chicago, IL

  3. Carol on April 20, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    I remember that day all too well. I was there. The silence and darkness of that first night was so very creepy. I was in college and my family was scattered throughout the town. Trying to get to them and not knowing who was where and if they were alright was so frightening.. and then the sound of the police cars going around saying, “Take Cover! Another tornado has been sited”. I’ll never forget it. The 2 x 4s that had gone through the front window of our home, but yet every vase and trinket was still standing unharmed on the window ledge. The 2×4 went through the living room way and hung out on the other side in the kitchen (lived in Arrowhead), still with the curtains hanging from the end of the 2×4. Thank you for remembering the people who lost their lives that day.

  4. Helen Dean on June 15, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    The “roar of 74″. I was downtown Xenia….my senior year of high school there. I’ll never be the same. My most vivid memory was my father running in where I was…still wearing the cape as he was in the middle of a haircut and had gone into a manhole to survive.

  5. Lisa on July 12, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    I remember this day very well also, I actually wrote a poem about it that was published not too long following the tornado. However, I believe that is even 37 years later the most terrifying day of my life. It is not something you just put behind you. I remember my family laying in the hallway and my father on top of all 3 of us and we were praying as hard as we could. Until a neighbor peeked in the front door and said it’s gone, when we came out we watched it continue to destroy everything it came in contact with, many places off in the distance that had never been visual before from my front yard was now completely clear in sight because everything else between it was gone i could see the courthouse clock like it was a block away and I remember thinking about my friends and the rest of my family at that exact moment. The days ahead were very crazy and chaotic as well. curfews, national guard everywhere, eating outside with the neighbors over coleman stoves, it was a time of togetherness that i have not had since. Thanks for remembering our day too!

  6. Keith Fraley on July 19, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Where is the memorial plaque with the names of all victums of the 74 tornado? I think it’s in downtown Zenia somewhere, any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Keith

    • Bill on July 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      Sir,

      I am not sure of the exact location of the memorial. However if you contact the Greene County Historical Society they should be able to get you that information. Here is there contact info:

      74 West Church Street
      Xenia, OH 45385-2902
      (937) 372-4606

    • LINDA FUGATE MANNING on July 16, 2012 at 1:50 am

      IT SITS ON THE CORRNER BY CITY HALL. DETROIT ST.

  7. Curtis Moore on April 2, 2012 at 12:35 am

    I remember that day very well I was only 13 at the time we just got home from school Temple christian in dayton we lived in Bellbrook at the time my parants was taken care of our church camp grounds.Called (High view acres) owned by Dayton baptist temple. My dad (Denny Moore)was working in the cafiteria when he decide to come to the house as he was walking he saw the twister heading towards him and then took a turn and head towards Xenia. We spent over six hours in the basement that night we had a house in Xenia at Arrowhead at the time we rent it out. It was save the kids that was living there open up all the windows and it did save the house. It took us over eight hours to get into Xenia that night to check on our house. I’ll never forget that day, We live in Cleveland these days.

  8. Gigi Cirrincione on October 26, 2012 at 7:58 pm

    Years have gone by, the mind is now more forgetful than ever, however, one thing I will never forget is that day, that hour. It is still creepy to “re-live” it thru the pictures and video’s. Some things I recognize, others I don’t. I remember the story’s from that day that came out in the Xenia Tornado books that were printed shortly after. So many lost so much, some lost everything and some lost a whole family. It is almost 39 years later and everything is so vivid. Blessings to all who endured, to all who survived that fateful day. Blessings on those that were taken from us so brutally. I didn’t know you, but I remember you! :(

  9. dareius on January 15, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    i was 8 wen it happened i kown

  10. Carol Seitz on April 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm

    I remember that so well. We were wondering how my grandmother and my aunt and uncle were. We live in Mercer County and my mom and dad and my family were trying to get information on them. We didn’t receive any word until late in the night from my mom’s brother who lived in Beavercreek finally got into the area. My grandmother was transported to the hospital with severe head injuries and my aunt and uncle were okay physically but never recovered emotionallly. Both of their houses on W. Second street were destroyed. My grandmother didn’t remember anything about it. It was a very sad day when we finally took her to where her house was to show her why she now had to live with my parents. Her whole married life she lived in that house and raised six children. It was gone in minutes.

    • Lisa on April 3, 2013 at 4:15 pm

      Thank you for sharing your family’s experience of the tornado, Carol. What a sad story! It was such a horrific event, truly one of Ohio’s worst natural disasters.

  11. Robert on May 21, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I recall that day as well. I can remember the birds and animals going silent. My mother, brother and sister where with our mom stopping at the house we were building near Centerville and seeing the storm passing overhead to the east towards Xenia. Not more than half an hour later it touched down. The tornado that hit OK is a reminder to me of that dreadful day. When I lived in Indianapolis, My neighbors and I faced a tornado face to face is it came towards our sub division. All of us stared in fear. Lucky for us, it lifted up at the last minute and yes they do sound like freight trains.

    • Lisa on May 22, 2013 at 9:17 am

      Thanks for sharing your recollections, Robert!

  12. Damian on June 6, 2013 at 11:27 am

    I was 11. I’ll never forget that day. I had a paper route that would have put me right on King St. during the worst. But, I was procrastinating because of the on and off again rain showers. I remember my mom pestering me to get them done before it rained again. Then it turned dark greenish, and the radio started talking about a Tornado spotted in Bellbrook headed toward Xenia. We all went to the basement and watched through a small window as the tornado ripped through town. It looked like a huge flock of different size birds flying in a circle. As an 11 year old, I had no idea what was actually happening. Our house was spared, located on the edge of the damage. After, we immediately saw ‘survivors’ in shock walking down the street. They looked like people you see in black and white war movies. Actually, I remember everything seemed to be in black and white. I can so relate to the storms happening today in OK and other places. These storms are powerful and dangerous, and unpredictable. That is the first time I have recalled these memories, 39 years later.

    • Lisa on June 7, 2013 at 8:49 am

      Thank you for sharing your recollations, Damian. That must have been truly terrifying!

  13. James Campbell on June 13, 2013 at 4:38 pm

    The posting of June 6th, 2013 left me stunned when I read it. I have often thought about this storm. I was 5 years old, living on Lower Bellbrook Rd., Spring Vally. Although I was only 5 at the time, I remember seeing that funnel, that vortex. I was standing at the door watching it. I had no idea what it really was or the danger I was in. All I was thinking was it was like the commercial for a cleaning product…the commercial mentioned a “White Tornado.” I did not have a clue. It came from the other side of the road, over a large field. It had not yet touched down…maybe half way at that point. Anyway, this funnel came straight toward us, growing closer to the ground, but not yet making connection. It passed over us and continued on up the hill toward Xenia. We all know the rest. Almost 40 years later, I still remember that funnel.

    • Lisa on June 13, 2013 at 4:52 pm

      Thank you for sharing your memories with us, James!

  14. Helen Smith Addie on August 11, 2013 at 12:07 am

    The pictures brought back memories. I was a Wilberforce University college student. My husband was a Central State student. We were married in 1973 and lived on Brush Row Road, Wilberforce, Ohio when the tornado struck. We were lucky. Our landlady was Mrs. Marcella Austin, and her house was very sturdy-only had a few thousand dollars damage and was liveable. We stayed with her (She was 74 years old); there was a fireplace and we had wood. It snowed the next day, which was unusual for April in Greene County. The National Guard came with supplies including water. I’ll never forget the experience….

    • Lisa on August 12, 2013 at 8:43 am

      Hi, Helen, thanks for sharing your tornado story with us!

    • Keith Combs on April 1, 2014 at 1:24 pm

      Hi Helen,

      I was a Freshman at CSU at the time as well. That was the only event in my life that literally gave me nightmares for years afterward. It was a life changing event and it interrupted the whole educational process for me as well. Every year, around this time, I watch the sky when there is a storm.

  15. Diane on August 16, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    I live in Louisville Kentucky now. At the time of the Xenia tornado I was working at King Arthur Apartments on West Carrollton Road. We furnished several apartments and housed government officials coming to the area to assist those affected by the tornado. We also housed several families who lost everything. My heart went out to them. When the storms came they were naturally frightened. We had a recreation room that was partially underground. I told them to pick a person to call me and we could save time…grab our covers and pillows. I never resented those dark stormy nights that I laid on the floor with them. They shared their stories in a way you can’t unless you had been there. Sometimes they would try to thank me or tell me they were sorry to wake me up…I was glad to make them feel just a little safer.

    • Lisa on August 19, 2013 at 8:45 am

      Hi, Diane, thanks for sharing your tornado story with us! I’m glad you were able to help, and I know those people must have appreciated it very much!

  16. New Exhibit: Xenia Tornado | Out of the Box on April 2, 2014 at 8:02 am

    […] you aren’t able to visit us to see the original photos we have on display, you can see a sampling of Xenia tornado photos on this blog post from our Dayton Daily News Archive blog. You can also see photos and learn about Wright State University’s relief efforts for […]

  17. […] can see additional Xenia tornado photos on this blog post from our Dayton Daily News Archive blog, as well as in an exhibit of original Xenia tornado photographs from the DDN Archive in our reading […]

  18. Barbara on April 3, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    I was 12 years old and lived on W. Market street and was walking down the road to track practice at COX school, the train was blowing its whistle non-stop, my dad was running up the street towards me and grabbed me and we ran home. When we looked towards arrowhead all you could see was black it looked like the whole town was on fire. The TV was still on and announcing a tornado warning we looked out again and a whole group of black children were running up the street from track practice trying to get home. Three girls asked to come into our house and we took them to the basement with us, at that time the phone rang and it was my brother in Lanewood 1 calling from a friends house to say he saw a tornado coming at us. One of the girls tried to call her parents and the phone went dead. The girls and I held each and held on to my dog, while my parents held door shut to a little room we were in. We all survived. One of the girls family found us after the tornado which meant a lot to my parents. It is a day that changed all our lives and will never be forgotten and is remembered with tears especially every April 3rd.

    • Lisa on April 4, 2014 at 8:54 am

      Thank you for sharing your tornado memories with us, Barbara! That definitely sounds like a scary day.

  19. Matthew on April 28, 2014 at 5:44 pm

    Wow. This really scared me. Though I wasn’t alive for a few years after. I never knew that 2 days could produce so many tornadoes.

  20. Garrett Kessler on May 6, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    I remember that day and id say hell on earth is an understatement. The paper mill where my dad worked in Delaware Ohio was hit by a small but intense tornado that day. It was spawned by same storm that produced the Xenia tornado. The tornado despite being small picked up 20 rolls of paper stock , each weighing 10 tons and threw them into the cornfields behind the plant. The tornado derailed two rail boxcars that where parked near the plant. My dad had trouble getting home because huge pieces of wreckage from Xenia had fallen all over that part of town. I was at home with my mom that day and she was scared, we lived in a mobile home if things werent bad enough already. I remember how black the sky was like it was midnight. Ill never forget the sound of the wind. It was demonic. Worse yet, we couldnt get into the storm shelter because the park manager had the keys and was on vacation in Florida. Naturally the door was locked! God was with us that day.

    • Lisa on May 12, 2014 at 9:41 am

      Thank you for sharing your tornado story, Garrett! A locked storm shelter certainly isn’t much good, is it? I’m glad you made it through!

      • Garrett Kessler on May 12, 2014 at 7:11 pm

        thank you lisa…..ur a sweety!….but I felt so bad for my mom. She was terrified and nowhere to hide her kids…im glad u survived too. Ive visited some of the victims graves online and I can scarecly look at them without crying….and I wished the weathermen would stop telling everyone that this was a once in a lifetime storm….theyre putting the public in extreme danger by making people complacent. The truth is, theres an excellent chance we will see a similar event again in our lifetime…..I hope not!! But we have to keep a lookout…weather experts said the 1965 palm sunday tornado outbreak was a once in 200 year storm..yet 9 short years later, the US is struck by the Superoutbreak…..thats why im not buying this story about we wont see this again…..in the meantime ill pray that God makes a liar out of me….your friemd Garrett.

  21. Janet on May 15, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    Just read these posts. I remember it well. I was 16 and at St. Elizabeth hospital instead of being at school in Dayton. My brother and 2 sisters were there and Mom and Dad. We were on a high floor with a big window. My grandmother was dying, in fact died that afternoon of the tornado. The sky was green and we all felt an eerie sensation. We knew something awful was happening. My father was a landscape designer and had an appointment at the Arrowhead Complex in Xenia with someone to talk about designing their lawn. But because of his Mom dying, he of course cancelled. The home he was to go to was flattened to a bare slab. Glad he cancelled that apt. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. But we lost someone too that awful day! So sorry for others. Since then I have survived 3 hurricanes. Would gladly trade for that anytime than go through a tornado!

    • Lisa on May 20, 2014 at 8:57 am

      Thank you for sharing your tornado story with us, Janet! Definitely a close call for your father! Still a sad day for your family but could have been worse indeed.

  22. Terry G. Hunter on December 6, 2014 at 11:03 am

    I have shared my story with a women who wrote a book about it and it was also published in the Dayton Daily News with my Dad’s photos William R. Hunter “Ray’s Professional Photography” (his 2nd profession/ Delco Moraine in Dayton his 1st). He was at DM when it hit. Now. Here’s what I wrote back then (I was 14 years old) for my English class at Wayne High School after relocated to Huber Heights. My teacher made me stand up and read it to the class the next day and everyone including me was in tears. What an experience! Got a B+ ~~ : ^ )
    Xenia, Ohio U.S.A. April 3rd, 1974
    It was a weird day. In the morning when I went to school, the sky was calm, no sign of any wind or clouds.
    As the day went on, I can remember I had already been in five of my classes. It was now sixth period. The sun shone brightly and blinded my vision. Thin clouds began to cover the sky. It began to rain softly, then very hard! The streets were running over with water, as if God was giving our town it’s last sip
    The bell rang and I noticed it was beginning to sleet. I struggled to get through the crowd in order to get to my next class on time. I went into the room and looked outside. It was hailing! It was hailing so hard that you could hear it pounding upon the ground. It wasn’t long before school was dismissed and on the way home I walked through a misty haze.
    I walked into the house. Mom told me that had left word for me to clean up the attic. I had thrown the Christmas boxes up in it quite lazily. I wouldn’t have done that if I had it to do over, but I have no attic to clean up now .
    When I came down from the attic, tornado watches were being issued on the radio our county and many others. Either I told Mom or she told me (It’s hard to remember) not to go back up until the watch was over or rather cleared (never thinking of what was to come).
    I got a glass of orange juice and sat down at the dining room table. I said to Mom, “A tornado has never hit Xenia before” and she said, “There’s always a first time for everything”. I later found out that Xenia had been hit before, but at the time I didn’t know that. I turned around and looked out the back door. I saw it forming, a cluster of about six to eight tiny funnels. They were all high in the sky swirling furiously above the Arrowhead development.
    I said, “Oh my God! I see one! Come here quick! Hurry! Look! She said, “Oh come on Terry! That isn’t funny. Don’t kid around like that. That’s nothing to joke about”.
    She came to the back door thinking I was joking or something. I couldn’t understand why she thought I was fooling. I guess it’s just something that’s unbelievable, and no one can believe that such a thing would ever happen to them. That’s what I thought before, but not anymore. I can believe!
    She called my sister, Tammy into the room. We were all standing at the back door panicking. Mom blurted out, “We better get out of this room or we will be cut to pieces”. We had a wall of 12″ square mirror tiles. That is if it were to hit, not really thinking it would.
    We went to the master bedroom in a rage not knowing what to do. We went to the bedroom window and stood there watching it form for about five to ten minutes. It first formed into a very skinny funnel, somewhat like the familiar pictures you often see. It wasn’t touching the surrounding area yet. It was splitting up into little funnels, and then going back into the skinny familiar tornado.
    Tammy said, “Oh, it’s not coming this way you guys. I’ve never seen anything like it!” But I knew it was coming toward our house because of the way the wind current was blowing.
    I truly was terrified! It was something I had never seen before and never really thought much about, but it was a different story now. It was coming and there was no way of avoiding it. Our house was in it’s path.
    We finally saw it drill down onto the Windsor park development a development that was connected to ours. It looked like birds were being pulled into it. It was really wood and debris flying about at 300mph.
    The funnel wasn’t a funnel anymore. It was huge! Gigantic, if the word is alright or proper to use.
    We lived in front of Warner Junior High School. There was a field in between Warner and Arrowood Elementary School.
    It was swooping it’s way across the field tearing up the sidewalk and pavement, throwing wood, electrical and every kind of wiring that you can imagine. Roof tops, telephone poles and just everything!
    We were told (previously) by a TV repair man to get in the master bedroom by or under some heavy furniture. This tornado wasn’t a regular one. it destroyed tall heavy buildings, concrete, brick, frame shacks, mansions, huge trees, everything, complete devastation!
    We huddled up against the side of the bed shouting out to God. “God be with us!” “Please Lord, Oh God Please!” Those are the words I remember saying.
    I thought it would never go over our house. It almost stood in one place and swirled through the house, ripping it into scattered memories. When it finally passed, I couldn’t move. I heard my sister yelling out for my Mom and me. She was screaming out our names, “Mom, Terry, Are you alright? Oh God! Everything’s destroyed! Don’t move Mom, I’ll get you out! I’ll get you out!” Tammy was left standing with the bedroom door.
    It took five guys to get me out from under the rubble that was around me, under me, on top of me, everywhere! It took them twenty to thirty minutes to get me out.
    When Mom got out from under the debris with the help of my sister, she smelled gas, and of course, so did I. From the time she got out until I was freed, we thought the remainder of the house (if there was any) would blow up with me still trapped, unable to move an inch. The only thing I could see was the tile on the bedroom floor.
    They finally managed to pull me out from under the remains of what used to be a home, a home filled with love, that I thought would never be broken apart. We have the love in our home now as much as we had in it before, possibly more, if such a think is possible.
    Everyone’s been so kind and generous. I don’t know how I can ever thank all the people that’s been so thoughtful of the scattered loved ones.
    GOD BLESS YOU!
    XENIA LIVES AND ALWAYS WILL!
    Terry G. Hunter

    • Lisa on December 10, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      Oh my goodness, what a terrifying experience! I’m glad to hear you and your family survived, and thank you for sharing your story with us!

  23. Mark620 on December 10, 2014 at 11:10 am

    I remember that day, I was 12. we lived in Centerville, OH. The hail balls were as large as baseballs when they fell. We were in moms car driving to the store when the hail hit. Fortunately it was a 65 dodge and the hail did not even dent the car or break the windows … other cars around us did not fair that well. I remember a vet that was destroyed by the hail. A few hours later we were hitting the remains of the hail (about the size of a golf ball) with golf clubs.

    • Lisa on December 10, 2014 at 1:04 pm

      Oh my! Glad you were in a sturdy vehicle! Thanks for sharing your memories with us, Mark!

  24. Don on December 13, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    I was active duty Air Force stationed at Wright-Patterson. I worked at the hospital. As we were getting ready to leave for the day, we learned of the tornado and that help would be needed at the Xenia hospital. Several of us got to the Xenia hospital and helped transport people on anything we could from tables to doors, whatever would support a person. Many were being transported to Dayton hospitals. When we left the Xenia hospital, we could see the damage and all the lights that the Air Force had sent over. People were looking in damaged houses for other people, family and friends. The sights that night best reminded me of the pictures of the bombing of London during WWII. Skeletons of buildings, debris every where and then once in a while, you would see a house standing by itself on what was surely a crowded neighborhood earlier in the day. The house stood there, took the beating that the tornado had dished out, and somehow, stood its ground. At last, a sign of hope in what appeared to be the war torn remains of a great community. I remember that night well.

    • Lisa on December 16, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Wow… Thank you for sharing your memories with us, Don!

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