West Memphis residents remember the Triple Threat of 1987 - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Reported by Anna Marie Hartman

West Memphis residents remember the Triple Threat of 1987


Twenty years ago, West Memphis, Arkansas became the first city in U.S. history to be declared a federal disaster area twice in a two week period.

It was December, 1987.  A killer tornado swept through the city on the 14th, followed by flood waters on Christmas Eve, and nearly a foot of snow on January 5th.
Newspaper reporter Kaye Brockwell was covering a story at Southland Greyhound Park when the most powerful tornado ever to hit West Memphis touched down.

"What sounded to me like thousands of people running across that floor," he said.

It was the sound of a vicious twister that missed the dog track by a mere 200 yards, instead cutting a swath through West Memphis two miles wide and three miles long.
The storm killed 6 people, injured hundreds more, and left 1,500 homeless. 

Marion Police officer James Wilson rushed to West Memphis to check on his pregnant daughter, Sandy Hunt, and his three year old granddaughter, Brittany.

"It hit three minutes after we walked in the door," Hunt said.

"It was amazing, 'cause that house was tore all to pieces, the only thing left I think was the bathroom," James Wilson added.

Daylight revealed more than $35 million in property damage.  Recovery began instantly, as help poured in from around the country.

Normalcy returned until Christmas Eve, when 12 inches of rain fell within 24 hours. 

Nearly 1,000 homes were flooded, and one person drowned in high waters.

By then, Hunt had moved to her parents' home in Marion after the tornado struck.  What little she had salvaged from that storm was soon under flood waters in her parents' carport.

"Everything was ruined," she said. "We lost everything."

Then came January 5th, when seven to ten inches of snow fell throughout Crittenden County.

Former West Memphis Mayor Keith Ingram said his city was lucky more lives weren't lost.

"All in all, we were very blessed there was not a greater loss of life in the community," he said.

Today, flood control upgrades act to prevent flooding in Crittenden County.  There are weather warning sirens, and recently the Pinpoint 5 StormTrack Doppler Radar was installed at West Memphis Municipal Airport.

But all the advances in technology can't erase the memory of the Triple Threat of the late eighties, which left thousands of people wondering what would happen next.

Click here to send an email to Anna Marie Hartman.

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