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Survivor Remembers 1964 Tornado Fifty Years Later

Fifty years ago, the most powerful tornado ever to hit Wichita Falls tore through the northern part of the city, and Sheppard Air Force Base.
Fifty years ago, the most powerful tornado ever to hit Wichita Falls tore through the northern part of the city, and Sheppard Air Force Base.

It was rated under the old scale as an F-5 and possibly the first to ever be broadcast on live television.

City View was part of the hardest hit areas.

Chanda Norman was 12 years old on April 3, 1964 and she says her house on Las Vegas Trail, in Sunset Terrace, was among the very few that somehow was spared total or massive damage.

For many who remember Terrible Tuesday, April 10th, 1979, it was the tornado of all tornadoes.

But, before that and just six years after a tornado struck in 1958, one more powerful than the '79 twister struck the other side of town.

"The back of our house faced west, and of course that's the direction the tornado was coming from, and my mother let me watch it until it tore up a house on City View, which was probably a quarter to a half mile back," Chanda Norman remembers.

On April 3rd, 1964, the F-5 ripped through City View before it hit Sheppard Air Force Base.

Seven people were killed, 111 were injured, and losses were put at 15 million in 1964 dollars. It was something Chanda, home from school with the mumps, never could have imagined only a few minutes earlier.

"Before that had happened, it had hailed about the size of a grapefruit. It was big. In fact, I had another sibling, two siblings home, one was too young to go to school and the other one was home with mumps too. And, we had run outside and got a hail ball, put it in the freezer so we could show my daddy when he got home," she said.

Across town at the KFDX studio, crews rushed to get the warning out, and to push a huge studio camera out on the parking lot so viewers could see the tornado live until crews rushed to the scene for more detailed reports.

Viewers saw the hazy, rain and debris shrouded tornado in the distance as it traveled about 5 1/2 miles from the southwest toward the base. But some, like Chanda, saw the tornado much closer in color.

"Tornado actually changed colors. It had been the dark kind of black, and then it went kind of a white color for a little while, and then it turned red. Our explanation for it back then discussing it was it had sucked the water out of the irrigation ditch that runs across that part," she said.

"And, it's like when it crossed that area, it sucked that water up in it, and temporarily gave it a lighter color," she continued.

"And, then over in that area there's a lot of red clay dirt. And, it started picking up the dirt on the other side, and kind of turned it red," she explained.

Chanda says she soon saw the National Guard in action, and her neighborhood was locked down for a very long time for the clean up and reconstruction.

And, while not as wide or as deadly as the '79 tornado, the one in 1964 remains the mightiest to ever hit Wichita Falls.

Chanda's miraculous brush with death in 64 was repeated 15 years later when she took shelter with many others in a grocery store walk-in freezer during the '79 tornado.
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