April 16, 2019

Putting a Disaster to Memory

By Doyne Phillips, Managing Editor for Southern Writers Magazine

On a recent visit to the Texoma area, I found myself there during the remembrance of the Tuesday April 10th, 1979 Red River Valley tornado outbreak. An F4 tornado hit Wichita Falls, Texas and it has come to be called “Terrible Tuesday.” Second only to the loss of life¸42 dead, was the loss of property. The storm left an eight-mile swath through the city and destroyed $400 million in property which in today’s dollars was over 1.78 billion. That was only in Wichita Falls.

The outbreak continued for two days throughout the plains and Mississippi River Valley. There were fifty-nine confirmed tornadoes. The death toll came to fifty-four lives. Along with the forty-two dead in Wichita Falls was another eight Texans losing their lives. Three were killed in Oklahoma and one in Indiana. This remained the most disastrous storm until the Joplin Missouri tornado which hit on Sunday May 22, 2011.

Over several days the news covered this 40th Anniversary of the Red River Valley outbreak. Many people were interviewed concerning their loss and their memories of the impact of the tragedy. Each had vivid memories and were very detailed in their descriptions. I wondered if it was from clarity of memory or from reliving it over and over in their minds all these years. The pain was still there and that may have kept it alive.

I was reminded of the observation that our memories and the truth are close relatives but not identical twins. This said, I felt the need for someone, having experienced such a memory, taking time to write down their experience as well as their feelings. Details are important for future generations to know not only what others have gone through but how they dealt with it.

This applies not only to natural disasters but any and all life changing experiences. We should encourage a written account not only by us but by our friends and relatives. All that are interested should write of their view of the experience. When doing so be clear, be precise and be detailed. This will relieve us of tasking our memories with the details in future days and will be an account that will last.                            

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