Waco, Texas, May 10, 1953
The day before the tornado I caught a horny toad.
What a magnificent prehistoric monster it was! Oh, the adventures we would have together. Nothing would stand in our way! The little town had no idea what was about to hit it! Run, people, run! We will crush your cars. We will turn your buildings to dust! We will rule!
Bow, puny mortals, before King Eddie and the Lord of Toads.
Mom called me in for supper.
Heavy low clouds swirled in a darkening sky. Wind-driven rain lashed my bedroom window, and then the hail began. The sky turned a sickly green.
Mom made me and Linda, my sister, go into the hallway in case the window gave way. It was way scarier in there. We could hear the roar of the wind and the hail on the roof and the crashing of thunder. The whole house was shaking, but we couldn’t see what was happening outside from our narrow windowless prison.
I thought the house was going to blow away.
Finally, the worst of the storm passed. I spent the next hours fearfully scanning the skies until it was too dark to see.
What I didn’t know was that a gigantic tornado had roared though the city at 4:37 pm, just as people were getting ready to go home for the day. The rain was so intense many of them took shelter indoors waiting for the storm to subside.
It was a fatal mistake.
The F5 twister, a third of a mile wide, packed winds of 260 mph. Few of the buildings downtown were built to withstand such a storm. The 5-story R.T. Dennis furniture store collapsed, killing 22. Another 61 died in the two blocks between 4th and 5th Streets and Franklin and Austin Aves. Piles of debris five feet deep made the streets impassable. Crushed cars were strewn about like broken toys.
The 22-story ALICO building, newer and steel-reinforced, still stood, an eerie sentinel standing guard over the ruined city.
Dad let me go with him to see what had happened.
We didn’t get far.
It was only after Dad took me home that I remembered my pet.
Each day the list of those killed grew longer. When all the living and the dead were accounted for, 114 had perished and 597 were injured. 600 businesses, 550 homes and 2000 cars were damaged or destroyed.
The heart of the city was wrecked. The rebuilding would take years, but that would have to wait.
First, there were funerals to attend.