By Jack Jordan and Randy Blackaby
April 4, 2014
Editor’s Note: Today marks the 40th anniversary of the F5 tornado that devastated the City of Xenia and killed 33 during its path across Greene County as part of the Super Outbreak of April 3 and 4, 1974. Below is the story published April 4, 1974, the day after the destruction.
A bright sun late this morning reflected on the tornado-spawned miseries of Xenia, literally laying bare a communities soul still in shock but rallying back from its worst-ever tragedy — more than 1,000 injured and the death toll now mounting steadily — already 32 known fatalities.
Man was tackling the massive destruction wrought by tornadic winds that roared through the city, generally from southwest through downtown and out northeast, with 85 percent destruction. Its noise was more awesome than any freight train — and its destructive might actually bounced a freight (train) around like a toy, adding to the cutoff of emergency equipment.
There was ample noise again today, as workmen began cleaning up and searching through wreckage for additional victims. But Xenia’s tremendous tornado left a city and environment reeling, certainly for days, but likely months and even years. Xenia had nothing to compare it with, not since founding in 1803.
Many of the dead were children. Five persons were reported killed at the A & W root beer stand, 62 Dayton Ave. Bodies were gathered from several areas and taken to the root beer stand for transportation to other facilities.
One woman, severely injured, was pregnant, and having her child when the storm hit. Officers found her dead, and her baby still fighting for survival.
Parents were roaming the streets, especially in the Arrowhead subdivision, looking for children and mates. Husbands were returning home from work, and trying to find what was once home and family — some of them without luck.
Few areas of the city escaped the devastation. South Hill and the extreme north end were notable exceptions to the tornado’s wrath.
The escape of the north side from the severity suffered by the rest of the city is one of the few blessings the community could count today — it spared Greene Memorial Hospital.
The downtown bussiness district sustained varying degrees of damage. Some businesses were leveled to a point where identification could be made only by familiarity with the location and memories.
For example, all that could be found of what was once the Mr. Donut Shop on North Allison Avenue were the stools, standing alone like mushrooms, with the building nowhere in sight.
Across the street, the Kroehler Mfg. Co. exemplified the terrific impact. A tractor-trailer rig was blown approximately 100 yards onto the roof of the Community Lanes Bowling Alley across the street.
To the east, the wreckage of the Penn Central freight train gained most attention. It had been lifted from the tracks and thrown into the Kroger Store parking lot and onto a nearby used car lot. Several fatalities are said connected with this. The Kroger store was obliterated.
North from the center of town, James Super Valu store, 52 East Market Street, was destroyed and almost all of the older homes on North Detroit Street were in ruins all the way to Ankeney Mill Road.
Little was left of Xenia High School, as the mighty winds heaved school buses into the structure. Central Junior High School sustained heavy damage, but nothing like the high school.
Police reported six schools were destroyed but they were not named.
If the disaster had occurred a couple of hours earlier, students would have been in the buildings.
Marshall Drive residents were reduced to lowly piles of broken lumber and Stadium Heights suffered much the same.
But, undoubtedly, the greated destruction was in the Arrowhead subdivision where block after block of small, brick homes were flattened in an area about halfway between Bellbrook Avenue and West Second Street. In many instances, it was almost impossible to determine houses ever existed.
Many were said injured in Wilberforce and one man was reported killed, although confirmation has not been received.
Aid arrived quickly from surrounding cities and counties, and it wasn’t long before squads and police units from as far away as Columbus, Piqua, Troy and Wilmington arrived.
Dayton police raced to the aid of Greene County authorities, roping off streets and routing looters.
In fact, the response to the disaster was of so great a magnitude the influx created mass confusion for a couple of hours in communications and coordination systems.
Medical aid arrived from many of the same areas which supplied police and rescue help. The Disaster Canteen from the Columbus Red Cross chapter set up shop at the court house, dispensing free coffee and box lunches.