40 Years Ago: Remembering Oklahoma's Deadly Day Of Tornadoes

Sunday, June 8th 2014, 7:31 pm
By: News On 6

One of Tulsa's worst natural disasters hit Green Country 40 years ago.

The combination of several tornadoes and flash flooding on June 8, 1974 damaged hundreds of buildings and killed 16 people.

According to the National Weather Service, 22 tornadoes touched down in the state of Oklahoma that day. Two EF-3s ripped through Tulsa.

Neighbors of 40 years can finish each others' sentences, especially after surviving a tornado together.

"You knew there was something,  the weather, it was soupy,weird. Weird!"  Carole Levy said. "I have never been so scared in my life. The wind and the noise. And all the glass shattering."

The Levys, Fairlesses and Richards of the Walnut Creek neighborhood remember something strange in the air on this day in 1974, then they got warning a tornado was coming.

"I remember looking out of our back door and I could see the tornado come over the hill," Chuck Fairless said.

Brookside also got hit.

At a Brookside McDonalds, a young manager heard the tornado warning, shut down the store, then ran to the restaurant's basement.

"We had heard that the storms were developing over in west Tulsa and that they were coming towards Peoria," Rick Bilby said.

His customers and co-workers took cover in the restaurant's basement.

Thinking the storm had passed, Bilby climbed out first.

Paula Crow was just 13 at the time.

"Just like a scene from 'Twister,'" she said.   "We're running and the family's screaming, 'Hurry, hurry, hurry, it's behind you!'"

All this happened as people in Drumright recovered from an EF-4 tornado that killed 14 people.

These neighbors can now put it in the past, but the memories remain.

"What a difference a day makes," Marietta Fairless said.

The Fairlesses lost a roof. Kathleen fainted upon seeing her house, and the Levys found a piece of the Oral Roberts University administration building lodged in their home.

But they, and others say it's now part of their history -- Tulsa's history.

"Yeah even though we're neighbors we're still friends," Clift Richards said.

The tornado damage and debris made worse by the up to 9 inches of rain that pooled in streets.

"I have never been so scared in my life," Carole Levy said. "The wind and the noise and then all the glass shattering."

It was a day that terrified Tulsans and left a memory they won't forget.

"Just like a scene from Twister," Paula Crow said. "We're running and the family's screaming, 'Hurry, hurry, hurry; it's behind you!'"