Photo courtesy of City of Greenwood
Several residents sift through the destruction after a tornado ravaged the heart of Greenwood on Friday, April 19th, 1968. Photos and a list of the deceased and injured are on display at City Hall, 30 Bell Road in Greenwood.
PHOTO BY CHAD HUNTER
Greenwood residents gather at a clock tower on the square Saturday, April 19, 2014, following a ceremony marking the 46th anniversary of a tornado that devastated the city.
Greenwood residents, some who lived through a devastating tornado 46 years ago, gathered Saturday at the square to mark the anniversary of “that haunting spring day.”
“It all happened in like a minute,” said Richard McKinney, a junior high school student at the time. “The old structures disappeared, and the history of the town disappeared. It really erased the board, and we started all over.”
The F-4-rated tornado swept through the heart of the city on April 19, 1968, killing more than a dozen people and injuring 270. The twister demolished 450 homes, the three-story courthouse and city hall.
“Everybody for decades, when you talked about something, it was before the tornado or after the tornado,” McKinney said. “It was a line of demarcation, kind of like A.D. and B.C.”
A proclamation marking Saturday as “Tornado Memorial Day” was read by acting Greenwood Mayor Sharla Derry to about a dozen spectators.
“A total of 13 lives were lost that day and numerous were injured,” the proclamation states. “Many of our beloved downtown structures were forever lost or changed that haunting spring day …”
Saturday’s ceremony was held at 3:15 p.m., the same time the tornado hit decades earlier. A non-functioning clock tower, which contains the mechanism from a clock that survived the tornado, was set to 3:15.
“In a town of 2,016, 13 people died in 4 minutes and 41 seconds,” former Mayor Ken Edwards said. “The reason it’s remembered, I think, is not so much for the loss of life, but because it was that milestone where everything was either before or after the tornado.”
Total damage in 1968 was reported at $1.5 million, which would be about $10 million today.
The tornado and the system that produced it headed east from north central Texas, coming across eastern Oklahoma into western and central Arkansas, according to the National Weather Service in Tulsa.