Survivor recalls living through Terrible Tuesday

Survivor recalls living through Terrible Tuesday

LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -This year marks the 37th anniversary of Terrible Tuesday, the worst tornado outbreak Texoma has ever seen.

Fifty-six people died, more than 1,700 were injured and more than 20,000 families were left homeless that day. One of the survivors from the Wichita Falls tornado told her story.

"We were alive. And you hear people say that, 'thank goodness we're alive,' and I understand how they feel," said Nancy Arnold-Reynolds.

April 10, 1979, started as an ordinary day. Nancy went to work while her grandmother stayed at home with her two youngest children, Christy and Lou.

"And got off a little early. And I thought, 'Oh, I think I'll stop and get some dog food.' And then I thought, 'No...' something just said, 'go home,'" Arnold-Reynolds said.

She also dismissed an idea to take the kids to a movie, unaware that in a matter of minutes, that theater would be reduced to rubble. In another change of routine, she turned on the radio while cooking dinner. Minutes later, she heard the announcer.

"'There is a tornado that's destroying McNeil Junior High,' and we knew we were in the direct path," she recalled.

Nancy left the dinner, grabbed Lou, Christy and her grandmother, and got them in to the bathtub in the bathroom.

"It wasn't probably two minutes until there was powerful winds and things crashing around. It took your breath away," she said.

Many relate the sound of a tornado to that of a freight train, but all Nancy could hear was a nearby chandelier, a wedding present from her grandmother and granddad.

"On, and on and on..." she said.

After the tornado passed, everything got quiet, except for the sound of nearby cries for help.

"The neighbors were trapped in their closet. Their house was completely destroyed, except the closet. We lost our roof. The house on the other side, only lost shingles," she recalled.

Other oddities stood out as she surveyed what the tornado didn't destroy.

"Dinner was still on the table. Exactly as I had placed it. Full of sand and dirt and grass and debris. Needless to say, we didn't eat it," she said.

Nancy also noticed the kitchen trash can missing, then later found it in her bedroom, managing to somehow make two right turns through the house while staying perfectly upright and not losing one bit of trash.

"Christy and Lou were playing cards. Our living room wall, across from the front door, was plastered in grass. And there were cards stuck in there, like that," she recalled.

The sight of a painting made by Nancy's grandmother, now left with gashes from the debris that tore through the house, struck a nerve.

"I think after that, I probably went into a state of shock. I don't remember much," she said.

In the days following, Nancy felt fortunate, at least compared to her neighbors.

"We had just bought our house, and we were fully insured. Some of our neighbors were not. Had not updated their policies in maybe 20 years. And so, I hurt for them because they couldn't rebuild," she said.

Nancy was also thankful for the help they received from the Red Cross. She and her family were then able to relocate to Fort Sill. She now resides in Lawton, with a few reminders of Terrible Tuesday, along with a more specific plan should disaster strike again. That's the message she wants to deliver to everyone living in tornado alley.

"You may not think it's going to happen to you. I didn't! But in the back of my mind, I knew, should it happen, I was going to the bathroom. Please, plan," she said.

Even though Nancy miraculously got home from work early that day, decided not to go to the store, felt as though she shouldn't take the kids to the movies and mysteriously turned on the radio, she still knew where to go to keep her family safe. And for that, they all survived.

"I think because I've gone through it once, I can do it again, if I had to," she said.

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