Twister Flashback: Photos From a Killer Oklahoma Tornado, May 1955

Joseph Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Joseph Scherschel—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Aftermath of the deadly F5 Blackwell Tornado, Oklahoma, May 1955.
History
'50s

The deadly supercell twister that laid waste to parts of Oklahoma City and its suburbs earlier this year violently closed out a historic tornado drought that had kept America free of almost all twisters — not just catastrophically destructive ones — for a solid year.

But drought or no drought, Oklahomans, like most Americans living in the country’s famed Tornado Alley, are hardly strangers to the havoc that even mid-sized tornadoes can suddenly visit on communities. Six decades ago, an outbreak of scores of tornadoes across both Oklahoma and Kansas killed more than 100 people, injured hundreds more and destroyed homes and businesses in dozens of counties. On the night of May 25, 1955, a monster F5 twister (in the Fujita Scale’s grim terminology, a tornado capable of “incredible damage”) slammed into the northern Oklahoma town of Blackwell, not far from the Kansas line. Twenty people died and hundreds of homes and businesses were demolished.

In the days following the Blackwell twister, LIFE photographer Joe Scherschel was on the ground there, documenting the devastation and the recovery effort in one small town that had nearly, but not quite, been wiped off the map by a shockingly destructive force that disappeared as suddenly as it had erupted.

[MORE: See photos from the aftermath of the deadly May 20, 2013, Oklahoma City tornado.]

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