Revisiting the Waco tornado after 65 years

Revisiting the Waco tornado after 65 years
Posted at 8:53 PM, May 11, 2018

Friday marked 65 years since a tornado tore through Waco, killing 114 people and destroying hundreds of buildings.

It is still an event that stays in the minds of everyone who has grown up in Waco.

Central Texas News Now revisited memories of the tornado to see how Waco has overcome the destruction.

We met with Cullen Smith who was enjoying his tranquil surroundings in China Spring as he remembered a time when it was anything but tranquil.

"I was in the law library with Hilton E. Howell and we were doing some research and getting ready for a lawsuit and it began to rain and then water began coming through the window like the window was open. I've never seen anything like it," Smith said.

While he was working that day in an office in what is now known as the Alico building in downtown Waco, he said there came another moment he had never seen, and definitely will never forget.

"I went over to my office and there was debris coming through the sky everywhere. It was not just a little bit of trash, it was all kinds of things and it was moving horizontally, not falling," Smith said.

It was May 11, 1953.

"You could look outside and everything you could see was ruined, it was demolished," Smith said. "You had no idea how much of the town was damaged."

Days later, Smith said he went back to his office where he found a world that had almost stood still. That is after the power turned off and then came back on.

"It was exactly like it had been when we left. The typewriters, the electric typewriters were running, you could hear them running and they had the middle of documents that the secretaries had been typing on," Smith said.

"They were in the typewriter and the motor was going and it just stopped like the world stopped right then."

While it felt like the world had stopped, it hadn't. That day shaped but did not destroy Waco. The city, with its people and its buildings, recovered slowly.

"It did wipe out a number of key buildings but I remember graduating Waco High in 1962 and Austin Avenue was still the main drag," said Larry Holze, the spokesperson for the City of Waco.

Holze said he was in third grade when the tornado hit.

"My dad had a music store, 821 Austin," Holze said.

Holze said he helped his dad pick up the pieces and move forward.

"They're proud of it, they want to make it what it really is," Holze said.

It wouldn't be what it is if not for that day when the tornado hit, according to Holze and Smith.

"From that devastation, from that loss, we were able to overcome that we were able to bring ourselves back together as a team, as a family, as a town," Holze said.

It is a town both Smith and Holze said they hope will never forget what happened.

"We want to let the young children know those in the third, fourth, fifth graders know about what happened downtown," Holze said.

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