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Marking the 1972 Tornado

Destruction of the Peter S. Ogden School, April 1972 tornado.

Washington and Oregon average about 1 or 2 tornadoes a year. Each usually are relatively weak, and do minimal damage. That was not the case on April 5, 1972 when a devasting F3 tornado struck Vancouver killing 6 and injuring 300. It is by far the worst tornado in Pacific Northwest History.

As we mark the anniversary, we thought we would ask a couple members from our staff who endured that 1972 storm and hear their memories from that day in their own words.

Tamie Cody – Emergency Management Coordinator – “I was 12 years old in 1972 and going to Minnehaha Elementary School. Of the eight kids in my family, six were at Minnehaha. The other two were at Lewis Jr High School. Mom and Dad both worked in Portland. I remember the teachers running around. They looked worried. When the sirens at the school went off, it scared us all, not knowing what was going on. The teacher told us it was a little wind storm and that we would be evacuating into the basement of the school. We lined up and headed to the basement with all the other kids in the school. About 500 panicked kids were running and falling down as we made our way down the congested stairwell. Once we were there, they told us that a tornado had hit and as soon as the buses could get there, we would all be going home.

There was no structure for this evacuation, parents were running in looking for kids and buses were arriving hurrying us to load. It felt like a madhouse. Kids were scared, crying and then dropped off blocks from our regular stops because of storm damage. The bus driver wasn’t sure if it was safe. I found my dad driving around trying to locate us. We listened to the radio for information on the storm. We were one of the few homes on our street with a basement. Dad scooped up a bunch of the neighbor kids, as their parents were not home yet, and took us all down into our basement until their parents could arrive where he felt it was safe. Power lines were down, and the neighboorhood was without power. Dad made popcorn in the fireplace which we all thought was cool. The mother of one of the kids that stayed with us, was killed at the Sunrise Bowling Alley on 4th Plain when it was hit by the tornado. That family – forever changed. “

Cindy Stanley – Emergency Management Coordinator – “This started off a nice and sunny spring day.  I was in 9th grade in Orchards at Cascade/Covington Junior High.  First reports came from the hand-held small transistor radios that were so popular in 1972, as everyone cool seemed to have one.  Radio announcers made it sound like the world was coming to an end, as their own voices rose with fear.  Wild, unbelievable reports were coming in of destruction and most certainly injured people.  I was worried about my family and my horses.  Being in 1972 Clark County I don’t remember much for emergency procedures.  But, there was a teacher from the Kansas or Oklahoma area there.  She told us to quickly move across the room, to the inside opposite wall of the windows.  We could see that the sky was very strange and dark.  She had us bend down and place a binder to cover our heads. Luckily, our school wasn’t damaged but we were as safe as you could be in that situation. 

Probably scariest was the radio report that another tornado was spotted on its way to Orchards.  For some reason that was worse.   Everyone knew someone that was affected from the Tornado.  There were plenty of hero stories that day. 

I was disturbed with my Mom as she had told me we don’t have Tornadoes here.  She was probably upset herself that her beliefs were shattered too.  Poor thing, here she was at 36 with four kids that she needed to protect.    

Driving around days later and seeing the devastation was horrible.  Up off Mill Plain, west of Andresen there were several houses destroyed.  One house was gone and the next door house looked fine.  How could that happen?

As a 15 year old, I didn’t want the bedroom light turned off for a week.  Looking back at it now, this deeply affected me.  Some of us were still damaged from the 1962 Columbus Day Storm so living through another storm just brought fresh physiological wounds.  Although I’ve learned to calm my fear of big wind, it’s not completely gone.” 

I think about this as an example to reunite my family in an emergency situation.  A Communications Plan is most important.  How will you get in touch with each other?  What is the Local Area Networks are down?  Does everyone have an outside area contact to text that they are safe?

The Rescue and Recovery- Twenty ambulances from Clark County and from Portland converged on the damaged areas, assisted by four Army National Guard and two Air Force Reserve helicopters.  The injured were taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital and Vancouver Memorial Hospital, while rescuers remained on the scene throughout the afternoon and into the evening, searching the ruins with their bare hands to insure no one remained trapped in the rubble. 

The Vancouver tornado has the dubious distinction of being the deadliest tornado recorded in the United States in 1972. Six people were killed and at least 304 were injured seriously enough to be taken to area hospitals for evaluation and treatment. Property damage exceeded $5 million.  Today, the tornado remains the deadliest in Washington state history.  Thanks Tamie and Cindy for sharing your memories of that day!

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