It’s been 38-years since a series of tornadic supercells formed across portions of northeast Texas and southeast Oklahoma that resulted in over 60 tornadoes and dozens of fatalities.
Had it not been for Texas Highway Patrolman John Hanna, who first spotted a funnel while traveling west on Hwy 82, residents in Paris would not have been alerted in time of the impending threat.
“I was driving going 85 and running red lights trying to get out of its way. Never forgot that feeling and thinking I was going to die that day,” said Paris resident Diane Clark.
It was on that day in 1982 Paris was struck by an F4 tornado that left over 1,000 homeless, 170 injured and 10 dead.
“I remember this day our family lost our home, everything we had! We took shelter under a culvert with the family across the street,” said Stacy Jones. “My Mom wrapped her arms around us as tight as she could, and we held on to the pipe that ran through the culvert. It was one of the scariest things I ever experienced! I will never forget it!”
As an ‘eerie calmness’ blanketed the county, some heard sirens; however, others like Regina Johnson did not.
“I was 11-years old when the tornado hit,” said Johnson. “I was with my aunt and two cousins, and we took shelter in the back room of the house we were in.”
Johnson says though she doesn’t remember hearing any sirens, however, she does recall seeing a school bus stop not far from the house.
“I remember seeing them pull the children off the bus and quickly running to a nearby ditch to take cover. I couldn’t see any damage from the house I was in, but I remember seeing everyone as we were all coming out of our shelters looking around at all the damage,” she said.
James Nichols, who was at the Clarksville Football Field said, “I was told to get to the field house where they had the foam rubber in nets we were going to get under. About that time, we saw the funnel maybe 3-4 miles north of town. I will never forget that day.”
Johnny Williams, an officer with the Lamar County Sheriff’s Office at the time, said it was all very surreal and he remembers thinking that this can’t be happening. Williams and his partner, Dub Drake watched from the 4th floor of the courthouse as the tornado crossed N Main heading east.
“I remember the wind, the sound, the debris, and the aftermath. It was a very traumatic time for everybody involved,” said Williams.
Over 150 state police personnel came to the aide of Paris in the after-hours of the tornado, as well as, hundreds of volunteers who came from near and far to help.
“My Dad and I went to help, I was 19 at the time. I will never forget what I saw, and it was also the start of my fascination with severe weather and tornadoes! I became a storm spotter in 2007 in Oklahoma,” said Brenda Leonard who was inspired to become a storm spotter after that day.
No matter the number of years that pass by, Paris will always pause to remember the day that changed our hometown forever. However, without a doubt, the heart and spirit seen on that day still holds strong in our small Northeast Texas town to this day.
“The Paris people came together and we survived it,” said Williams.