'Black wall of death': 1953 Waco tornado

George F. Nance

Along about 4:15 in the evening of May 11,1953, I was delivering the U.S. Mail parcels in the Castle Heights addition of Waco, when it began to rain and hail pretty hard. I still had two parcels to deliver and a two hour collection-route ahead that evening.

Instead of waiting for the rain and hail to stop, I decided that since I only had two parcels left I would return to the post office. I checked in and told the supervisor. He said that we could deliver it with the next day's mail.

Then the lights went out. The wind began to blow something fierce. We could not see each other.

After what seemed a long time, the wind stopped blowing, there was no rain, no hail, nothing. It even began to get lighter. I went to the back door and looked out. In the driveway I saw a freight-truck from Lester's Transfer & Storage lying on its side in the driveway.

I asked someone to hold my hand while we went to see if anyone was trapped in the truck. None would go with me, so I said "I'll go," and off I went.

Immediately a sense of calm and serenity seemed to envelop me. I walked to the cab of the truck, bent down and saw that no one was inside. Upon arising, making note that the post office was undamaged. I looked down the driveway toward Franklin and saw a black wall of death moving horizontally from left to right down Franklin going down the street at what I presumed to be around 300 mph. It was then that I figured out where I was.

I didn't look up, for I was not sure what I would do. After all, you must remember that was the first time that I'd been in the eye of a tornado. I had never see a tornado from the inside. It was quite an overwhelming experience! I know there was a smile on His face that day.

Still calm, I walked to the back door, turned and saw the black wall of the tornado was about ten or twelve feet from me, opened it and took about three steps and then the tornado wall hit the back wall of the post office. I was safe, but one hundred and fourteen Wacoans died that day. I still wonder, "why me?"

My mode of transportation in those days was a small motor scooter. After the storm was over I rode it to the Southwestern Bell office on Ninth and Washington, because our phones were out of order, I called my wife, Anneliese, since it was her birthday. I imagined her sitting on a pile of lumber, looking for a ringing telephone. When she answered, I told that I would be a little late, that I still had my collection route to run and then I would be home. We had not as yet moved into our new house.

I went back to the post office, checked in from my day run, checked out for my collection run and was able to quit on time. When I got home, there was my wife standing at the door. She said, "Why didn't you tell me there was a storm downtown?" If she only knew.

At the moment I just couldn't tell her what I had been through.

The next day I was to deliver mail in East Waco. At some of the houses the mailboxes were missing. At some of the mail boxes the houses were missing. Some of them had been moved 10 feet or more, as if a giant hand ever-so-gently lifted them, placing them down without a cracked window.

The streets were covered with trees, some power lines were down. When necessary, I would just step over them. Thus, the mail was delivered.

I retired from the postal service 1982, after more than thirty years of good and faithful service.

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