XENIA, Ohio — Fifty years ago, on April 3, 1974, a powerful F5 tornado touched down in Xenia, Ohio.

It left record-breaking devastation in its path. More than 30 people lost their lives and more than a thousand were injured.

What You Need To Know

  • Fifty years ago, an F5 tornado touched down in Xenia, Ohio.

  • Community members prepare to honor lives lost and town's history.

  • Greene County Records and Archives has been saving documents and recording stories.

  • Survivor Lesa Taylor DeVond shares her story.

“The level of destruction from this was just unprecedented in Xenia’s history and virtually unprecedented in the history of the United States,” said Greene County Records Center and Archives Public Outreach Coordinator Mary McKinley.

In honor of the 50th anniversary, she and the team have been creating posters, digitizing county records, and helping to record survivor experiences.

“People lost everything in a matter of minutes, so these huge stockpiles of donations came in and were organized at the YMCA, at the Red Cross to allow people to have access to those basic necessities that had been destroyed during the course of the tornado. The damage that President Nixon viewed here led to changes in legislature at the federal level around disaster relief planning,” she said.

The tornado gained national attention, but for people who lived through it, it’s a day that never fades.

“I remember every detail, 50 years later,” said survivor Lesa Taylor DeVond.

DeVond is the Director at Central State University in Dayton.

“I’m blessed and my family is blessed that we weren’t injured,” she said.

About two weeks ago, DeVond decided to type up her story for the first time.

She was 15 years old and in 10th grade at Xenia High School.

She was heading to track practice when the weather took a turn.

“What I saw was a perfectly funnel-shaped tornado. It was a pretty good size, and it was split apart into two and it was whipping across the highway and coming back together and it would separate again. Lightning bolts were coming out of it,” she said.

A man pulled her inside a nearby store to take cover.

“In a matter of seconds, the tornado was over us. Everybody says it sounds like a freight train. I didn’t hear a freight train. I just heard the loudest hum that I’ve ever heard in my life,” she said.

DeVond and her brother made their way outside, eventually found their parents, and the rest is a history she’ll never forget.

“We did not get home until well after 1 a.m. and all we had to do was walk nine or ten blocks up Main Street in Xenia,” she said.

DeVond still lives in the Xenia area and sees reminders every day.

By sharing her story, she hopes it makes a difference.

“Prayers go out to all of those who did lose loved ones and just, blessed to be here 50 years later to talk about it,” she said.

For McKinley, collecting the documents and listening to the stories is special.

“These records really preserve and explain how Greene County came to be the way it is today for this integral piece of history, tragic piece of history, but essential piece of Xenia’s history,” McKinley said.

From gas cards to property damage reports, to even the old emergency bus routes, these types of documents are here and speak volumes about history.

“Those landmarks that only really existed in that specific time period that you could only learn about through these documents, from the survivors telling their stories, it has been an indescribable experience,” she said.

To read DeVond's account of the Xenia tornado, read below: