By Ms. Alison Sterken
What were you doing in Lubbock in May 1970?
In 1970 I was busy being a ten year old child, in the fifth grade at Murfee elementary. For years my parents would usher us off to the church basement (a few miles from our home at St. Luke's Methodist) responding to the tornado warnings, but eventually we became desensitized and stopped going. Instead, it was my habit to climb up onto the roof and watch with wonder as the funnel clouds dipped out of the sky when thunderstorms rolled in.
What do you remember from the night of May 11, 1970?
I was up on the roof, watching the sky darken to purple (with the exception of the bright orange/yellow light around the horizon, and watching as funnel clouds descended down out of the churning purple sky, and then just as quickly seemed to be drawn back up. My dad had been at work, but arrived home, careening into the driveway at a high speed and an uncharacteristic squeal of the tires and jumped out of the car, screaming to me to get off the roof and into the house, telling me that a tornado was on the ground. The four of us, (my parents, my brother and I) climbed into my parent's closet, my dad pulled the mattress off of my double bed and put in over us and the dogs and my hamster and he sat in the doorway of the closet with the transistor radio. We listened as the radio announcer excitedly gave a blow by blow play of the destruction. I remember him describing what happened when the twister hit the Great Plains building. My brother and I kept asking my dad if the tornado was heading our way.
What was your reaction to the destruction you saw in the days following the storm? Did the storm damage your home, workplace, or school?
The tornado did not hit the side of town where I lived, (in the 4200 block of 65th). It seemed to me at the time that the tornado struck in areas where there was a greater concentration of people living without sufficient resources; it hit so many trailer homes, and in more impoverished areas. My dad was a dean at TTU at the time and my mom was an elementary teacher so we were more fortunate. But of course tornadoes are not classist. it was just happenstance. My parents would not drive us to see the destruction until some days have passed so that we would not be in the way and because they were not macabre, did not want us to gawk at the misfortunes of others.
Did you know anyone who was injured or killed by the tornado?
No, but I remember an elementary school was turned into a make shift morgue.
Did you or anyone you know help with the emergency response or cleanup following the tornado? What was your role? Explain.
My parents helped as much as they could, financially and with labor. My dad's concentration was on the less financially stable students who were made homeless by the tornado.
How did the tornado experience change you? How did it change the City of Lubbock?
I became a little less cavalier about storms! Lubbock is a unique city, I have lived all over the US and I have never encountered a community anything like it. My theory is that the special characteristics have been bred through the generations because the environment the terrain is so inhospitable and the weather so harsh, (blowing dust in the spring, bitter cold in the winter, and scathing heat in the summer), that compassion, the selfless compulsion to help one another whether or not one knows the neighbor, is undeniable. The tornado only strengthened this truth about Lubbock When I moved my young family back to Lubbock in 1991, as my husband was beginning a Ph.D. program at Tech, I thought that the memory of Lubbock being such an exceptionally caring city was just an romanticized idealization from my childhood but I was wrong. We felt not only welcomed, but accepted, immediately when we moved to the city, we found a niche quickly and when we experienced problems requiring assistance, it was as if a net of love and support was dropped beneath us, supporting us through the struggle. I was so thrilled when my son was accepted to law school at TTU. It meant I would have reason to revisit my beloved Lubbock.