MARION -- More than 300 people turned out Sunday afternoon in Marion to pay tribute to 10 people who lost their lives 40 years ago in the F-4 tornado that struck Marion head-on on May 29, 1982.
Nearly all of them had a memory to share, whether they knew one of the deceased or had their own story of a near-miss.
"My brother would have been right in the path if my mom hadn't made him come back to the house for a minute," said Cindy Simmons as she and her husband James looked at the photographs and other memorabilia laid out at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center. The Civic Center held an open house preceding a memorial service at Tower Square Plaza.
Marion Mayor Mike Absher said the city wavered between marking the 40th anniversary or waiting another decade. But they realized than many of the Marion residents who lived through that day had already passed on, and so decided not to wait.
The keynote speaker at the memorial service was Tom Logan. Logan was the developer of Shawnee Apartments, the site where seven of the 10 fatalities occurred when the complex took a direct hit.
At 3:16 p.m., the bells tolled as Absher read the names of those who died. A wreath was placed at the memorial and the Rev. John Holst of the Zion United Church of Christ offered a benediction.
The Marion Republican produced a memorial edition for the event and copies were given to those attending the event. Additional copies are available at no charge at Marion City Hall.
Excerpts from the May 1982 issue of Storm Data, a monthly publication of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina, analyzing the Marion tornado of May 29, 1982.
"Massive tornado ... contained three separate vortices rotating around the main tornado. Initial touchdown was approximately 4 miles northwest of Carterville and 1 mile north of Crab Orchard Lake. It lifted briefly, touching down in a subdivision of Carterville, demolishing two homes and damaging several others.
"The tornado again lifted briefly and touched down again in downtown Carterville, traveled through the east side of town and through Crainville -- where several homes, business buildings and many trees were damaged.
"The tornado then increased in size and several funnels were observed within the tornado. Extensive damage occurred at the Williamson County Airport between 1410 and 1415 CST.
"Then the tornado either changed course or formed a new funnel as it followed Highway 13 through Marion. A truck plaza near I-57 was demolished. A car was struck on I-57 and exploded. A motel and three shopping centers were damaged. The 190-unit Shawnee Village Apartment complex was destroyed and two schools were severely damaged. One person died when a wall fell and two more died when they were literally blown out of their homes. Many persons were trapped under rubble.
"The tornado lifted approximately 1 mile east-southeast of Routes 166 and 13."