34 years ago, an F5 tornado touched down in Lubbock and before it passed, 26 were dead and 500 injured. The tornado rolled north through the city leaving Lubbock behind it in shambles. Firefighter Jim Kemp remembers that day like it was yesterday.
In 1970, the Lubbock Regional Arts Center was Central Fire Station; the place where Jim would ride out the most viscious storm in Lubbock history. He remembers, "The doors were breathing in about five or six inches and there was so much noise, things beating against the doors, we decided not to open them, that was a smart move." From there, Jim took cover from the tornado of 1970 under a firetruck. He says, "The thing started moving backward and all of the engines were moving." All the while, Jim clung for dear life to the firetruck's axle and to the shirt collar of one of his fellow firefighters. He says, "It was scary, but it was over fast. There was no time for fear, it was just on us so fast."
Exactly 34 years later, you'd never know a tornado ripped a mile wide path through downtown Lubbock, and emergency professionals hope if it ever happens again, they'll be better prepared. Lubbock's Emergency Management Coordinator, Ken Olson, says, "Certainly, technology has changed as you well know. The radar system we have, the community system we have all has been upgraded tremendously since that time."
As Ken remembers the 26 people who died back in 1970, he knows new technology will better alert people if a tornado ever heads toward Lubbock again. That's something Jim Kemp hopes won't happen anytime soon. "I really thought the whole city was gone. All the houses were gone.. it was devistation, just total devistation," Jim said.
Jim says, with the bad came the good back in 1970. The destruction energized Lubbock and created a spirit of cooperation as it was rebuilt.