Amarillo, TX Tornado Destruction, May 1949



Amarillo, Tex., May 16 -- (AP) -- A skipping, whip-sawing tornado chewed up a four-square mile area in southern Amarillo last night, killing four people. About 65 were injured.
It was the first destructive tornado in the 62-year-old history of this Panhandle capital of 102,000 people.
Capt. Polk Ivy of the Texas Highway Patrol, state liasion officer in the disaster area, said local officials predict damage will total "something over one million dollars."
The Reconstruction Finance Corporation declared the stricken section a disaster area.
Dawn found Red Cross and volunteer workers still picking their way through acres of shambles. It looked as if a big kitchen mixer dipped in, stirred everything up, and then spewed it around.
Although many sections of Amarillo were hit, the tornado's most destructive blow fell on the southern area dotted largely with new homes of veterans. A near cloudburst -- and hailstones as large as a man's fist -- added to the damage.
Ambulances and highway patrol units funneled into Amarillo from a 200-mile radius, bringing injured to the crowded hospitals. Red Cross people flew in from St. Louis.
To property damage here may be added heavy loss to crops in the wheat rich Texas Panhandle -- that part of the state which juts up to the north, bordered by New Mexico and Oklahoma. Hail such as fell here would destroy the near-ripe wheat -- but smashed communication lines made it difficult to discover the extent of the hailstorm.
Three carloads of pigs, smashed free from their freight-car prisons, rooted in the wreckage here. Curious sightseers thronged streets smashed cars, shredded lumber and toppled trees. Some rooftops had been blown a mile.
Night rescue work was carried on by the lights of cars, ambulances and trucks. Electric power was out.
The dead were:
Cars by the hundreds massed at the edge of the storm's handiwork. One person on th edge of the throng was heard to cry:
'Let me in there. I have a home in there."
The twister seemed to hit first on 28th Street. It moved south.
Roofs left houses in the whirling wind and trees were uprooted and laid on their side.
A record wheat crop is maturing in the Panhandle, and it was feared the accompanying hail and downpour might have caused heavy crop damage.
One hospital and 34 known injured and another had 29. Most suffered cuts and bruises but some were unconscious.
Louis Nordyke of the Amarillo Globe-News said officials at the Tradewinds Airport in Amarillo reported 45 planes were destroyed and that two hangars were flattened. Damage there alone was estimated at $200,000, Nordyke said. Massey-Harris, biggest farm implement dealer in the Panhandle reported another $200,000 damage. Most of it was in badly needed wheat combines and other harvesting equipment.
The Reconstruction Finance Corporation's designation of the stricken area as a disaster area means that those suffering damage are eligible for loans from RFC's disaster loan agency.
Capt. Ivy of the State Highway Patrol was designated state liasion officer in the disaster area. He said 31 units of the patrol and Texas Rangers have been assigned to the area.
At Austin, Colonel Homer Garrison, Jr., director, and chief Joe Fletcher, assistant director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, manned the public safety radio station throughout the night directing operations.
Seventy-two units of Red Cross blood plasma were flown in from Bergstrom Field, Austin. Runways here were lighted with smudge pots to permit the planes to land. H. D. Carmichael, state relations officer of the American Red Cross, said whole blood also was flown in from Wichita, Kans., and that additional blood plasma and tetanus units were being sent from midwest area headquarters of the Red Cross at St. Louis.
State highway patrol units from Lubbock, Plainview, Fort Worth and Wichita Falls came to assist in rescue work. Gov. Beauford Jester's office at Austin called for blood plasma.
South Amarillo was a scene of twisted, grotesque wreckage.
The twister missed the giant U.S. Helium Plant, located in the direction from which the twister came.
Ten or more cars of a moving Santa Fe freight train were blown off the track.
It was suddenly still, just before the twister hit, then it was like a great explosion.
Maury Teague, a reporter for the Amarillo Globe-News, said most of the houses were leveled.
Teague's mother and father had their house blown down around them.

Denton Record Chronicle Texas 1949-05-16