This Day in Texas History: Waco Decimated by Tornado
This Day in Texas History:
Waco Decimated by Tornado
May 11, 1953
On this day in 1953, Waco was ravaged by a tornado that tore through the heart of the city. The storm killed 114 people and seriously injured another 145; 196 business buildings were completely destroyed, and 396 were damaged so badly that they had to be torn down.
The Waco Tornado, as it has come to be known, was over 1/3 mile wide with 260 mph winds and rated F5 on the Fujita scale. It damaged over 1,000 homes and businesses, totally destroyed 600 more. Ranking at number 10 in the top 10 most deadly tornadoes in American history, leaving Waco in a northeasterly course, it left a 23 mile long path of destruction in it’s wake. 2,000 vehicles were either destroyed or damaged and the Dr Pepper bottling plant, now the Dr Pepper Museum, was completely destroyed. It is estimated the Waco Tornado did 50 million dollars in damage.
After the storm, many shoppers began to frequent suburban shopping centers, thus hastening the decline of the downtown business district. “White flight” also contributed to urban decay, especially after the city’s schools were integrated in the late 1960s. Connally Air Force Base was closed in 1966, dealing a blow to the city.
The Waco Urban Renewal Project was begun in 1958 to deal with the problem of inner-city blight, and in 1967 the city was chosen for the federal government’s “Model Cities” program. By 1978 the Urban Renewal Project had helped to channel more than $125 million into renovating the city’s urban core. Slums were cleared and a number of new buildings were constructed, including new apartment complexes, a shopping center near Baylor University, and a convention center.