The Woodward News
April 8, 2007
Tornado survivors recall a strange day
It was a strange and eerie day.
Gloria Schneider Fothergill remembers parts of April 9, 1947 quite clearly.
“It was a very strange looking day most of the day,” said Fothergill, who was nine years old at the time. “It was a red sky.”
“Mama always said that the air kind of had a sulphur smell,” said Fothergill’s younger sister, Lavera Schneider Haller, who was seven years old at the time. “The air was just unstable.”
“It was muggy, I remember, and so hot,” said Sabra Rodgers who was six years old in 1947.
The citizens of Woodward went about their usual business throughout the day and into the evening. By after 8 p.m. many were home with their families preparing younger ones for bed time. Some were taking the time to shop for groceries. Some were attending Wednesday evening church services and others were heading to the picture show.
The motion picture showing that night was “Rage in Heaven” starring Ingrid Bergman and Robert Montgomery.
What the citizens of Woodward did not know was that there was indeed a rage brewing in the skies which would descend into the town and haunt many for years to come.
Ann Johnson Hohweiler was nearly six years old and remembers the evening well.
“There was lots of lightning and wind,” said Hohweiler. “And then it got very quiet.”
Hohweiler was in her home with her mother, sister and brother. When the storm noises suddenly, strangely subsided Hohweiler’s mother told her children to hit the floor.
The Schneider sisters were also at home when the storm came through.
“Gloria and I had been fighting,” said Haller. “We were banned to the couch.”
Fothergill said she and her sister’s confinement to the couch turned out to be a blessing.
It was 8:42 p.m. when a sudden chaos struck.
When Hohweiler and her siblings got the order from their mother to get on the floor they obeyed. The next thing they knew was their house was being torn apart around them by a raging F-5 tornado that had seemingly come from nowhere.
“It was a ripping sound,” said Hohweiler. “It just sounded like wallpaper being ripped off the walls, nails being ripped out.”
“It was loud,” said Haller. “Very terrifying.”
The couch to which Haller and Fothergill were confined had turned over on top of them providing a shelter from flying debris.
“I just remember peeking out from under there,” said Fothergill. “It just felt like needles poking my face.”
How long did it last?
“Forever,” said Haller.
“It seemed like an eternity,” said Hohweiler.
While each individual citizen’s tornado experience seemed to last forever, Sabra Rodgers’ experience lasted longer than most.
Rodgers’ experience with the twister was one that few people in history have ever lived to tell.
“I was in bed asleep and I heard a very loud noise,” said Rodgers. “And I felt like I was yanked up by the shoulders and just yanked around.”
Rodgers could hear her sister screaming. Thinking that this experience could only be the worst nightmare anyone could ever have, Rodgers wanted to yell out to her sister that everything would be fine because this was not really happening, it was just a bad dream.
But then Rodgers was yanked away. She remembers hitting the ground two or three times. Once she thought she saw strange lightning shooting across the ground. Another time she felt as though she were thrown onto a pile of wood.
Then she hit the ground a final time.
“I got thrown to the ground on my stomach,” said Rodgers. She said that she stood and when a flash of lightning illuminated her surroundings she realized she was in the midst of a field with her home and town nowhere in sight.
“I had all my clothes yanked off except for the sleeve of my pajamas,” said Rodgers.
Still incredibly frightened, bewildered and thinking it all to be a nightmare, six year old Rodgers began to scream for help.
“I just ran around and screamed and screamed until I was exhausted,” said Rodgers. “I thought if I screamed loud enough my mother would come and wake me up.”
No one came to wake Rodgers up and what had been a warm and sultry day had become a dark and cold night.
“I walked into this mud puddle,” said Rodgers. “And the water was warm and I was freezing. It felt so warm on my legs that I just kept scooting down until I fell asleep there. I woke up in the hospital.”
Sabra Rodgers was found unconcious two and a half milesnortheast of Woodward having been carried by the storm for approxiamtely three miles. There were nearly ten other bodies sharing the field with Rodgers and she was the only one alive.
The Woodward Tornado was the deadliest tornado in Oklahoma history. Over 100 blocks of the west and north sides of Woodward were destroyed. The only light the citizens had to inspect the immediate damage was cast by the buildings that were on fire.
An estimated 107 people were killed by the twister with over 1,000 injured.
Among those killed was Leon Schneider, the older brother of Haller and Fothergill. Schneider was helping his mother who was pinned under a wall when a strong gust of wind caused another wall to fall and crush him.
The dead bodies of three children were never identified.