35 Years Ago: Remembering the Sweetwater tornado of 1986


SWEETWATER, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Sweetwater was devastated by a deadly tornado 35 years ago, leaving a lasting impact on anyone who was unfortunate enough to be in its path.

Sweetwater Tornado
Photo of homes damaged by a deadly tornado in Sweetater that injured 80-90 people on April 19, 1986. (Ricky Gumm)

April 19, 1986, an F3 tornado touched down around 7:30 a.m., creating a 2-mile path of destruction that injured 80-to-90 people and killed one.

Wind speeds reached 158-206 mph, leveling homes, businesses, and apartment buildings.

KTAB and KRBC posted a gallery of the aftermath on the 30-year anniversary, which attracted testimony from dozens of community members who remember living through the tornado and the horrific impact it made.

“I had a coworker who was in this tornado who threw herself over her child to protect them and ended up with gravel embedded in her back and left her paralyzed from the waist down,” Gayle Armstrong explained.

Bonnie Ford Oden has a vivid memory of the tornado ripping through her mobile home as she sheltered inside with her family.

“I remember falling off my bed the bed flying in the sky. We lost everything,” Oden recalls. “We are very blessed to be alive. My mom was hurt with dislocated shoulder.”

Other residents, like Nathan Castro, were mere children at the time, but even though he was only 9-years-old, Castro still says April 19, 1986 was the scariest day of his life.

Sweetwater has since rebuilt most the damaged buildings and homes, and residents have moved forward with their lives, but nothing can take away the feeling left behind for those who lived through that day.

Click here to read original coverage on the Sweetwater tornado from the Associated Press, written April 19, 1986.

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