65th anniversary of deadly Waco Tornado

January 01 2022 12:00 am

65 years ago to this day, an F-5 tornado changed Central Texas forever. 

It tore through McLennan County, killed 114 people and cost over $50 million in damage.

It had a 23-mile-long path, starting in Lorena and ending in Axtell. It destroyed over 600 homes and damaged over 1,000 buildings. 

“People were in a panic. Like, they started running. Trying to get out of town,” says survivor Barbara Merrit Spradlin. 

Spradlin was only 13 years old when the tornado came through Waco.

On her way home from school that day, the sky began to darken. A tornado touched down near Lorena around 4:10 p.m., moving toward her and her family.

“‘Lets get under the table and pray.’ I want to tell you it lasted four minutes. 114 technically died in four minutes,” Spradlin explains.

After the tornado, her mother looked outside at the damage.

“She opened the door and looked toward the town, you know, it was five blocks. She said, ‘Our town is ruined.’ It was a tragedy that I don’t ever want to relive. It took a long time to rebuild all the buildings, get all the bricks and debris off. Men worked day and night getting bodies, volunteers….and the hospitals were full. But we all worked together, and I’m proud that Waco is that kind of town,” Spradlin says.

A third grader at the time, Waco Spokesman Larry Holze also remembers this day. 

“And the tragedy, and the lives that were lost, and how one minute is everything is fine and then the next thing its a total devastation,” Holze explains.

No warnings were given about the tornado coming.

“They had already given an all-clear signal that Waco was not expecting any severe weather, forecasting was not at all. We didn’t have any emergency warning sirens, there was not emergency management as we have today,” Holze continues.

“Everybody knows what a tragedy Waco has lived through, and yet come out to be something people want to come see,” Spradlin says.

There are two memorials in downtown Waco to remember all 114 people lost, and also the more than 600 buildings destroyed.

You can find the memorials at 4th and Austin Avenue, and also 5th and Austin Avenue.

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