State Representative remembers '73 tornado

Tornado 43 Year Anniversary
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)
(Source: KAIT)

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - As many homeowners and business owners in Jonesboro continue to recover from historic flooding this week, others look back on another historic weather event, one that happened 43 years ago.

State Representative Dwight Tosh was a young trooper with Arkansas State Police when the storm hit on May 27, 1973.

Afterward, troopers from various areas of the state were called in to assist with the aftermath of the storm.

Tosh, however, wasn't able to.

A scary turn of events the day before landed him in the hospital, giving him an interesting take on the deadly tornadoes.

Tosh said he remembers May 26, 1973 as simply beautiful.

"I had worked all day. I'd been out on patrol all day. The sun was shining," Tosh said. "No indication of what lay ahead for us."

At 24-years-old, Tosh, now state-representative, then state trooper, was just finishing up his shift in Poinsett County.

Before he could go home for the day, he was called to respond to one last wreck.

"I headed in that direction. I actually got close enough to the accident that I was responding to that I could actually see the lights, the ambulance lights," Tosh said.

He never made it there.

Another driver hit him head on.

"I was trapped in the vehicle. I was severely injured," Tosh said.

They were able to get him out of the vehicle and transport him to St. Bernards hospital. It was around 4:30 in the afternoon of May 26.

The accident gave Tosh a very different take on the '73 tornado.

He said he and his father watched the storm through the window of the hospital room.

"We knew it was bad," Tosh said.

With the hospital untouched though, Tosh said he didn't realize just how vast the destruction was.

"The nurse walked in and told us that a tornado hit Jonesboro and it was devastating," he said. "There was no telling how many people were killed and injured."

He said things quickly went from quiet to crazy.

State police set up headquarters in the hospital and victims flooded in.

As people entered the hospital, information like their name and the extent of their injuries were taken down.

"Calls were coming in from all over the world, wanting to find out about family they had back here, or friends or whatever," Tosh said. "This was a way to keep up and be able to tell them, yes. They're here, they have these injuries."

While Tosh was in the hospital, his wife and one-year-old daughter were at her brother's house.

They survived the storm by hiding in a bathtub with a mattress on top of them.

"My wife, the next thing she felt was water hitting her on the head. She looked up and she could see the sky," Tosh said. "The roof was gone."

His wife was able to get word to him through other state troopers that she and their daughter were okay.

Tosh stayed in the hospital for a little over a week due to his injuries.

When he was released, he remembers the town was still in shambles.

"It was just unbelievable the destruction," Tosh said. "If the reports had been 500 or even 1000 people killed, I really don't think that would have surprised a lot of folks based on the devastation that this town had suffered."

But Tosh said Jonesboro did then what Jonesboro continues to do now, 43 years later.

"Jonesboro has always been that type of community. To be able to, when we face that type of tragedy, we come together as a community and we rise to the occasion and we always meet the challenge," Tosh said.

Tosh said the tornado spurred the creation of an emergency contention plan to help alert people about storms.

He said seeing the technology we have now versus what was in place in 1973 is amazing.

Copyright 2016 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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