Xenia Tornado: 50 Years Later - Gov. DeWine, wife share their story of the 1974 destructive tornado

XENIA — More than 30 people died 50 years ago today after an EF-5 tornado tore through the city of Xenia at 4:40 pm, on April 3, 1974.

Now, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine was working in Xenia when the twister destroyed the city. News Center 7′s Gabrielle Enright sat down with the governor and his wife and talked about what they experienced.

For the first time, they shared their story.

“It hit. Literally thought we were going to die at that point,” Gov. DeWine said. He was 27 and working in Greene County and at 4:40 pm everything changed.

“I was a young assistance county prosecuting attorney right in downtown Xenia,” he said. “We walked outside and literally we could see the funnel cloud from the west, and we got down to the basement.”

He said, “Fortunately, no one in our building was hurt. We got out of it. The roof was gone. We had a lot of damage, but we looked around Xenia and I couldn’t believe it. My first concern was to see how Fran was. To see what had happened to Xenia and we were living in Cedarville on Route 42.”

“We were all watching Sesame Street,” Fran DeWine said. She was enjoying her day at the time as the couple had three young children.

Fran said, “All of a sudden, the sky got incredibly dark and windy, and I said we need to go to the basement.” She continued, “It was an old farmhouse. You had to open the door, and go on the front porch to go down in the basement. I couldn’t get the door open on the porch because there was so much suction. So we went under our big oak table. When I got up and looked out the windows, I saw one tree was down right in front of our door. A huge, huge tree, and I looked at my neighbors and they had lost two of their barns. We lost our barn doors, but nothing real serious,”

“I wanted to call Mike and tell him about the damage and how scary it was. No warnings. I couldn’t get through to him at all. He was in Xenia. I couldn’t get through,” Fran said.

However, the future governor was on his way home. He said, “All this time I’m driving, I’m scared to death because of what I’ve already seen in Xenia, As I pulled into our driveway, there’s this massive tree that was down. I ran up to the house and everybody was fine and Fran was telling me about the tree coming down and she had no idea about what happened in Xenia because there was no communication,”

The DeWine’s captured video of President Richard Nixon visiting Xenia after the tornado and the widespread damage that was done to the beloved city.

“Life is very, very fragile and I think it’s the first time I really realized just how fragile it is.” The DeWine’s told me the 1974 tornado changed them.

“Now, when I go to a community, like I did a couple of weeks ago, I see the people and I think I have a better understanding of what they’ve been through. Just how fast their life just changed,” We take tornado warnings very seriously,” Gov. DeWine said.

The first family is proud of the Xenia community. Fran said, “We rebuilt our schools and our town and we’re still here.”

And they are grateful to be a part of Ohio’s history and future.

Gov. DeWine said, “I think Xenia is resilient. I think Greene County is resilient. Frankly, I think people in Ohio are resilient.”

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