Bossier City, LA Tornado, Dec 1978
TWISTERS KILL FOUR.
Bossier City, La. (UPI) -- Rare December tornadoes spawned by unseasonably warm weather dropped like bombs across norther Louisiana and souther Arkansas Sunday, killing four people, injuring hundreds more and causing more than $100 million in property damage.
The tornadoes struck in the predawn darkness out of a thick line of thunderstorms, leaving a trail of destruction from the red-clay banks of the Red River to the industrial community of El Dorado, Ark., 100 miles northeast.
The worst hit of the half-dozen southern communities was Bossier City in northwest Louisiana, across the Red River from Shreveport. State police said two young girls were killed there and more than 180 people were injured, at least three dozen severely.
More than 1,500 people were left homeless.
A third death was reported in the nearby farm community of Heflin, La., where six people were injured.
A fourth person was killed in El Dorado when her frame house was demolished by a dozen trees uprooted by the tornadoes. Another half-dozen were injured there.
Officials called the low death toll "a miracle."
"The amazing thing about this disaster is the amount of damage to buildings -- the structural damage throughout the area -- and the so few casualties," said Maj. Gen. O. J. Daigle, Jr., of the Louisiana National Guard.
"When you fly over and see some of these houses completely dismantled, you wonder (how so few died)."
Both Daigle and Bossier City Mayor Marvin E. Anding said the twister did at least $100 million in damage, and Anding said only divine intervention could have kept the death toll so low.
"He (God) must have been with us," Anding said.
"I can't believe we only had two deaths with the miserable, miserable mess we have out there."
The Bossier City tornado leveled a nearly vacant motor hotel on the city's east side near the horse racing track, injuring about 60 persons. A week earlier before the end of the racing season, the hotel, the city's largest, would have been packed with racing enthusiasts.
Anding also said some looters had been arrested, adding, "We are going to deal with these people as severely as possible."
National Guardsmen, armed with rifles and billy clubs, patrolled the area at nightfall. The mayor said a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew would be imposed for the city "until further notice."
The Bossier City storm struck at 1:50 a.m. CST Sunday, leveling homes, schools, trees and businesses in its 2-block wide, 8-mile long path.
Although tornadoes are rare in December, weather forecasters said the Gulf State area was ripe for them because of the unusually warm weather in the area the past week, with temperatures in the 80s and humidity near 90 percent.
National Weather Service forecaster Herbert Roseman noted that with such weather, "the tornadoes were an obvious end result."
Officials in Bossier worked in heavy rain throughout the night to rush supplies to the stricken areas, the worst being in the north and northeastern sections of the city.
Some of the worse destruction occurred in the neighborhood of an apartment complex where two girls were crushed by an automobile that was blown through their bedroom window. They were identified as LISA CURRINGTON, 15, and her sister, JANA, 8. Their parents were among the 34 injured.
In Heflin, where 25 homes were leveled by another tornado, police said CLARENCE PEARCE, JR., 40, was killed and six more, including PEARCE'S wife, were injured.
The El Dorado twister killed one woman, LURLENE HELMS, 53, and injured six others, all members of MRS. HELMS' family. Police said the winds drove a dozen pine and oak trees through her frame house trailer.
Another tornado ravaged Taylortown, La., southwest of El Dorado, causing few injuries but wiping out a large portion of the farming community. More damage was reported in Marianna, Ark.
Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards declared a state of emergency in his state and appealed to Washington for federal relief.
In Bossier City, VALERIE MUELLER said she was in bed when the tornado began its assault on the river city.
"I could hear the noise before it struck," she said.
"It was just like somebody screaming. It was a terrible loud noise. It was all over before you knew it."
DEBBIE THOMAS, 15, whose home was located in a hard-hit area of Bossier City, said, "The whole house kind of shook like something was rocking it."
She said she bolted from bed and grabbed a door knob. "I just held onto it until it stopped."
Although part of her house was torn away, she said, "I didn't even hear a crash. You could only hear the wind."
Galveston Daily News Texas 1978-12-04