Remembering a hometown tragedy

Fort Worth, one of the largest cities in North Texas, received national attention in 2000 following what was then considered a rare natural disaster. On March 28 of that year, the Storm Prediction Center showed Fort Worth being under a “moderate” risk for storms. By 6:18 p.m., a tornado formed in Trinity Park just west of downtown.

The tornado moved east and lifted 10 minutes later, just a short distance from Interstate 35. The storm was rated an F3 on the Fujita Scale with wind speeds of 125 to 145 mph. The storm caused $450 million in property damage. Two people died and 80 were injured.

Stephen Levine, senior academic advisor at Richland and an avid storm chaser, called the storm “significant.”

A memorial to the 2000 tornado, built from the remains of a damaged billboard, is located in the Fort Worth Cultural District.

A memorial to the 2000 tornado, built from the remains of a damaged billboard, is located in the Fort Worth Cultural District.

“It did a lot of damage. It blew out windows in many of the tall buildings and in fact about 10 days after it happened, I drove by and many buildings had missing windows. It was eerie to see,” Levine said.

A tornado striking a downtown area isn’t as rare as one may think, according to Levine.

“Lubbock took a direct hit on a tornado in 1970 and it twisted a well-built high rise in downtown. There was a tornado that passed through Nashville with 100 mph winds a couple decades ago.”

Despite being of meteorological significance, the storm was noteworthy to those who were at ground zero. Landon Stallings, assistant chief for the Fort Worth Fire Department, was on the scene.

“There was a lot of discussion leading up to the event since there was a high potential for storms that day. They recalled all of the personnel - all of the off-duty firefighters - so I responded to my duty station and went to work.”

First responders encountered many different situations when they arrived on the scene.

“Generally, we handle the event and we go back to our station, but the damage was so widespread. The stations weren’t operating and the dispatch stations weren’t operating and obviously there were so many people needing aid,” Stallings said.

“We shifted to a different way of doing business where you were assigned to a geographical [area]. The city was divided into six divisions and those six divisions took care of their problems in those areas from one call to the next.”

Wounds heal with time, no matter the size, and 19 years later Fort Worth has become stronger.

“We’re growing like crazy. Business is booming. The city is in a really good place,” said Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price about the city’s improvements and enhancements since the tornado struck.

“The buildings and the homes were so badly damaged that they were ready for renovation and the city was able to come in and enhance [the buildings],” she said.

“The tower, that’s now one of the largest downtown living centers, came as a result of that because the building was so damaged, we turned it into residences. All of those have been a major catalyst for economic development.”

As the city reconstructed, it also prepared for a situation of similar nature.

“Our emergency operation center or EOC is brand new. It came online in 2011 and some of what they’ve done there is a direct set-off of that tornado. It’s a combined project with North Central Texas Council Governments, Tarrant County, and all of Fort Worth’s emergency responders,” Price said.