48 years later: Remembering Xenia tornado that killed 32 and injured 1,300

The Xenia tornado, one of the most devastating weather events in southwest Ohio history, continues to live in the minds of those who suffered through it or saw its impact from afar nearly half a century after it happened.

The F5 tornado touched down just before 4:40 p.m. on April 3, 1974 in the southwestern part of Xenia that included the center of town.

There were 32 people killed and 1,300 more who needed treatment at Greene Memorial hospital.

The tornado that hit Xenia was part of a Super Outbreak, which is an event that included multiple tornadoes spawned from the same system. Typical outbreaks are six to 10 tornadoes.

The 1974 Super Outbreak was the second largest on record for a single 24-hour period and the most violent with 148 tornadoes that hit 13 states and caused more than $600 million in damage, according to the National Weather Service.

With 300 homes destroyed and half of the buildings in the city damaged, Xenia had to rebuild from the bottom up.

By April 3, 1975, 80 percent of the homes destroyed and 40 percent of businesses had been rebuilt. However, it would take almost a decade later to rebuild and repair all the structures that were damaged, according to Ohio Memory.

A collection of dramatic photographs from the Dayton Daily News archive document — in gritty black and white — the devastation that was left behind.

Credit: Eddie H. Roberts/Dayton Daily Ne

Credit: Eddie H. Roberts/Dayton Daily Ne

A black sky looms over homes in a residential neighborhood in a dramatic photograph taken shortly before the tornado touched down. That image 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.

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.

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.”

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