Few visible scars remain from "Terrible Tuesday," the day 10 years ago when a tornado tore an eight-mile path of destruction, but residents will never forget the deadly twister.
The April 10, 1979, tornado killed 46 people, injured 1,700 and left 20,000 homeless. It demolished more than 2,566 houses, 1,100 apartments, 81 businesses, several schools and churches and left the city without water and, in some parts of town, electricity.The tornado, which stayed on the ground 47 minutes, caused an estimated $300 million in damages.
The asbestos-sided homes destroyed by the storm have been replaced with sturdier, brick-front dwellings, just one sign of the city's recovery.
But ask anyone who lived here then; it was terrifying.
"This reminds me every day of that cyclone," said 80-year-old Oscar Groves, pulling up his left pant leg to display a swollen knee.
Groves has scars like hash marks across his bald head, reminders of the flying glass and wood that hit him as he tried to escape the storm's fury.
He remembers lying on top of his terrified wife in his bathroom while the twister screamed overhead.
"That thing just bounced me up and down," Groves said. His knee has been sore ever since.
The twister turned their house in the Faith Village subdivision into debris. Groves and his wife, Merle, had lived in the home since 1953.
"All that was left standing of this house was the bathtub, the hot water heater and the commode," Groves said.
"We just had blocks and blocks of total devastation," said Wichita Falls city spokeswoman Norma Crane. "We figured it would take about 10 years to get it all back."
In fact, 80 percent of the lost buildings were replaced within a year. Today, virtually every structure that was destroyed has been rebuilt in this town of 98,900, which is about 140 miles northwest of Dallas, near the Oklahoma border.
"That part of the city has grown tremendously since the tornado," Ms. Crane said.
Many of the homes, schools, churches and businesses were rebuilt with assistance from the federal government and a $14 million bond issue. That effort won Wichita Falls the "All-America City" designation in 1980.
"There's been a lot of good come out of the tornado," said Merle Pedigo, a retired Air Force chaplain who helped organize rebuilding efforts. "Lots of people's homes were rebuilt."
Churches helped many residents like the Groves.
Six months after the tragedy, a group of Mennonites from as far away as Canada started rebuilding the Groves' home. Groves supplied the materials and used a $12,000 loan from the Small Business Association to replace appliances, furniture and other items lost in the storm.
Their three-bedroom house now has a red-brick facade instead of its old asbestos siding.
"We ha to get everything new, but this house is built strong now," he said.
Others on his devastated street began rebuilding as well, including Ben Milam Elementary, where a storm-tossed Volkswagen remained embedded in a classroom wall for weeks after the tornado.
Behind the new bricks and mortar of Wichita Falls, residents keep various mementos of the storm.
For the Groves, one reminder comes once a month in the mail: the payment notice for their SBA rebuilding loan, on which they still owe more than $5,000.
And in his garage, Groves still stores his old refrigerator, which he found in the school yard across the street after the twister passed, and a 1965 GMC pickup dented during the storm.
"I keep them as souvenirs," he said.