Remembering Lubbock’s deadly 1970 tornado, 49 years later

49 years since deadly 1970 tornado

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - May 11th, 1970 was a day that would leave a lasting scar on the City of Lubbock.

49 years later, some buildings still bear the scars of the two tornadoes that touched down within city limits that day. The second of the two, the tornado that tore through downtown on a nearly nine-mile path of destruction, would later be classified as one of the first F-5s. In fact, the data gathered from the storm was instrumental in the creation of the F-Scale.

The winds in that storm were estimated above 261mph. By comparison, the tornado that came close to Tahoka last week was an EF-2, according to the Enhanced Fujita scale that came into use in 2007, with winds estimated above 111mph, but its track was 17 miles long.

The late Ted Fujtia himself surveyed the damage in and around the city of Lubbock.

Hundreds of homes destroyed. Nearly 8,000 with damage from the tornado or the large 4-inch hail. An estimated 10,000 vehicles turned into scrap. A 13-ton fertilizer tank thrown a mile. And the most devastating statistic, 26 lives tragically lost with over 500 people hurt.

To this day, it remains the last F-5 or EF-5 tornado to tear through the central business district of a major city. And to this day, it remains a case study for Emergency Managers about what to do in the aftermath of a large tornado.

We interviewed former Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin about his experiences during and after the Lubbock tornado, about how he was still transitioning from being a news anchor to being the City's Public Information Officer.

That day in May 1970 became his first day on the job as PIO. Martin said Lubbock was part of a pilot program in Civil Defense, and because of that, they had a plan.

They could still communicate via battery-operated two-way radios for emergency response. He also talked about the cleanup. One of the first disasters of its kind where a local government in the United States was able to handle a disaster of that magnitude, without the immediate need for the National Guard, although they were still involved.

The story of the 1970 Lubbock Tornado is tragic, intriguing, and educational, because many of the lessons learned that day are still being felt today nationwide.

If you'd like to learn more about the event, from both the historical side and Meteorological side, there are two great places to go.

The City of Lubbock Page on the 1970 Lubbock Tornado: http://lubbocktornado1970.com/default.aspx

The National Weather Service Page on the Tornado: https://www.weather.gov/lub/events-1970-19700511

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