Tornadoes, Floods Take Lives and Property

“Tornadoes, Floods Take Lives and Property,” Ensign, June 1974, 62

Tornadoes, Floods Take Lives and Property

The wisdom of family emergency plans paid off for the Snyder family in Xenia, Ohio, when the worst tornadoes in 49 years recently struck 11 midwest and eastern states and Ontario, Canada.

Brent Snyder, president of the dependent Xenia Branch, Dayton Ohio Stake, was outside his home with his four children when he was told of the approaching storm. Sister Snyder was out shopping. Telling his children to get into the house, he then began to warn his neighbors before realizing that a tornado was almost upon him. With his children, he sought the safety of a bathroom located in the center of his two-story brick home. This was the spot that the family had planned on using should such a storm strike, because its central location provided a strong shelter and protection from flying debris.

After the tornado passed, Sister Snyder returned to find her home nearly destroyed, but her family safe.

Now living in a temporary home until further plans can be made, the Snyder family was fortunate compared to others. More than 300 people were killed by the rampaging tornadoes and almost 4,000 were injured. Of the 4,000, more than 1,000 had to be hospitalized.

Early damage estimates included almost 22,000 homes, farm buildings, and small businesses either damaged or destroyed. In addition to President Snyder’s home, three other houses of Xenia Branch members were destroyed while others were only damaged.

“It was a fantastically destructive tornado,” said Joseph M. McPhie, president of the Dayton Ohio Stake. “Winds registered 500 miles per hour. We usually think of tornadoes as being quite narrow at the bottom and funneling upward. The one that hit here was about one and one-half miles across, almost like a thundercloud, and it just swept through everything. It touched down at the outskirts of Xenia, moved through a new subdivision, and then on through the center of the city. All that remained of some of the subdivision houses were the pads on which they had been constructed. It looks as though a bulldozer had cleared off the slabs and pushed the houses aside.”

President McPhie said that as the effects of the tornado became known, “we had people lining up to offer aid. It wasn’t a question of whether there was any help available, but how best to utilize the help offered. We have had several days, for instance, where our young people have worked all day long in helping to clean up. In so doing they have made quite a favorable impression with both the members and the nonmembers.”

Although there were no serious injuries and no loss of life among the Saints in Ohio, four seminary students and their instructor were killed when the vehicle in which they were traveling was picked up by a tornado and dumped into a reservoir at Monticello, Indiana. A fifth student, age 17, floated out of the rear door of the vehicle as it sank. Of the four girls trapped inside, two were 17, one was 18, and one was 14. Their instructor, who was the head of the German department at Indiana University’s Fort Wayne campus, is survived by a wife and five children. Members of the Fort Wayne Indiana Stake, the group had been on a field trip to Nauvoo, Illinois, as part of their Church history study course.

Reports from Mississippi indicate that three members were among those evacuated to safer ground when heavy rainfalls caused normally placid rivers to overflow their banks. The meetinghouse of the Seminary Branch, Hattiesburg Mississippi Stake, was flooded to a depth of four feet and it is expected that extensive renovations may be required.

In South America, Latter-day Saints were among the victims when heavy floods inundated the Tubarão area of southern Brazil. Approximately 100 members had to evacuate their homes as floodwaters rose as high as ten feet. According to Lynn A. Sorensen, president of the Brazil South Mission, initial aid to the Saints included three truckloads of clothing and needed supplies. As the floodwaters receded, priesthood holders from surrounding areas moved in to help clear away the debris and repair the damaged homes.

Downtown Xenia, Ohio, following the tornado. Photo courtesy Dayton Daily News

The tornado leaves its mark on the Central State University campus at Wilberforce, Ohio. Photo courtesy Dayton Daily News