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68 Years Ago: Remembering the deadly Waco tornado

Revisiting the Waco tornado after 65 years
Posted at 6:21 PM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-12 13:09:52-04

WACO, TX — May 11, 2021, marks 68 years since the deadly Waco Tornado that ripped through downtown.

Topping the list as the deadliest tornado in Texas since 1900, the tornado killed 114 and injured 597 others.

Nearly 7 decades later, the tornado's history still flows through the Waco community. Historian and Associate Professor of History at Baylor University, Stephen Sloan is one of many telling the stories of our past.

"The forecast for the day was light storms and by 5 pm that afternoon, downtown had been devastated," Sloan said.

Sloan even created an app called "Waco History" that tells the story of the tornado's path and its lasting effects on the downtown area.

"It changed the look of downtown so drastically, folks are often surprised at those tall buildings along Austin Avenue before the tornado," Sloan said. "They think of downtown now as such an open space and a lot of that came with how this was reshaped."

The tornado damaged 600 homes and 1000 businesses, one of those businesses being the Dr. Pepper Bottling Plant, which still stand today only a scar is left where you can see the old and where the new brick had to be replaced.

"The building is really a visual and physical testament to what happened," Ferrell said.

Mary Beth Ferrell, the Director of Development and Communications at the Dr. Pepper Museum, says they wanted to keep the scar by patching the hole with new brick to never forget that tragic day.

"We call it the scar or the smile on the side of the building," Ferrell said. "The building had to be patched up and production had to continue for that business to be able to survive."

Later the plant closed down but a museum took its place.

The non-profit museum opened its doors on the 33rd anniversary of the tornado in 1991, to dedicate the somber day but also to bring newfound hope to the city.

"That was their plan and their hope that the museum would spark interest and activity in downtown again," Ferrell said.

The Waco History app, which is free to download and explore, will take you through the path of destruction and highlights the museum and other historic buildings that were damaged along the way.

Sloan says it's important to keep this history alive as we tell stories of our tragedies to give us the strength to move forward.

"It's our collective history, is extremely important, it's a powerful thing and it's what makes Waco, Waco" Sloan said.

For information on the Waco History App created by Stephen Sloan information can be found on his website.

The National Weather Service has detailed events of the May 11 tornado.