It has been 49 years since a deadly tornado ripped through Wheelersburg, cutting through downtown and up Dogwood Ridge, destroying many homes and businesses. The tornado struck Wheelersburg on April 23, 1968. There were actually 14 tornadoes to touch down that day. Seven people were killed across Scioto, Lawrence and Gallia counties.
Randy Frazier, of Wheelersburg, was born in Portsmouth in 1948. His parents were living in Portsmouth at the time. From there they moved back to the Hanging Rock area that they were from. He would come to know Wheelersburg as home, however, moving to the area when the Ohio 52 was a new highway. He was only nine-years-old. Growing up in Wheelersburg, he remembers it being a wonderful little town. The kids enjoyed going to the drive-in movie theater that was there at the time. They also liked to skate at the local skating rink.
“It was a great place to grow up,” he remembered.
Everyone took care of each other and looked out for each other. There were no drugs and little crime. Things were pretty quiet.
As a teenager, Frazier decided to join the military. Going into the Army would give him the chance to get an some training and education that he could use for a career later in life. The Vietnam era veteran, went to basic training in 1967. Later that year, he came home for Christmas but returned to base in January. That was the last time he would see his hometown as he knew it.
When the tornado hit, Frazier was still unable to return home. He remembers worrying about his parents and friends. His only way of staying updated was through the news and phone calls from home.
His parents lived on Meadow Lane. Luckily for them, the path of destruction hit about a mile from their house. They were home at the time but were safe. They had spent the storm tying boats down. Frazier explained that there used to be a boat dock, and his parents owned several boats on the dock. All were also safe. After discovering his parents were fine, Frazier dismissed the impact of the disaster until he was able to come home that summer.
“When I arrived that day, things were still a mess,” he stated. “
“Dogwood Ridge was torn up, especially over by the old grad school. A dozen or two dozen homes were severely damaged,” he remembered.
The drive-in was over where Lowe’s is now. Frazier explained that it was blown over and damaged, and the skating rink was damaged quite heavily.
This really struck the community because both were important.
“Everyone who was anyone was usually at the drive-in,” Frazier commented. “There were movies every night.”
Even though it had been a couple months since the disaster occurred, Frazier says there was still visable damage throughout. Trees were still down. Buildings were still debris. He also explained that it was the topic of conversation everywhere people went.
Frazier went on to continue his Army career until 1970. After leaving the Army he returned home and went to work for one of the contractors that were working on the tornado cleanup. A couple years later, there were still people that were not back in their homes. Some businesses never recovered. Rebuilding was still a process. The biggest tornado of the storm was the F5 to hit Wheelersburg. Total the storm took 14 lives in Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia and caused more than $46 million dollars in damages. Frazier went on to work for the contractor for several years and remained in Wheelersburg throughout his lifetime.
Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1930.