Captain Robert Rockwell

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The 1975 Omaha Tornado

The morning of Tuesday, May 6, 1975 started out like any other for most people. People went to work, they went to school, ran errands and carried on like it was any other day. That all changed around 12:30 in the afternoon when the National Weather service issued a tornado watch for eastern Nebraska. By about 2 that afternoon the Weather Service issues another warning for a severe thunderstorm. People began to take notice of the sky and seeing a change.

By 4pm Pottawattamie County sights the first tornado. The sirens are set off. And while this tornado is the first, it is not the one that hits Omaha. At 4:10 Sarpy County gives off its alarm when a tornado is spotted by several citizens. Omaha then sounds off their alarms at 4:29 when the tornado gives a brief touchdown at 132nd Street and Harrison.

REACT, AREC, the Sheriff’s office, Police Division, and Fire Division are receiving several tornado reports at 4:33. This time the tornado touches down and hits the apartments located at 96th and Q.

Saving many lives that day were Captain Robert Rockwell, of the Fire Division and Patrolman David Campbell who both followed and drove along side the tornado sounding the siren and reporting location, movement and damage. They followed along as the tornado moved north along 84th from the South side of I-80 and again as it shifted east from 84th, hitting and damaging Bergan Mercy Hospital.

The terrifying ordeal was over by 4:58pm when the tornado dissipated once it hit Benson Park. Despite being an F4 tornado that’s path extended 10 miles and was 200-300 yards in width, the death toll was low, with 3 people killed and 133 injured. Thankfully, no fires occurred but some 4,500 homes were destroyed or damaged and cost roughly $400 million in damage, over a billion dollars with current inflation.

Because the tornado hit during daylight hours, as well as children being home from schools at that point, many people were able to seek shelter and save themselves.

Westgate Elementary school was irreparably damaged in the wake of the twister. While Bergan Mercy Hospital, Lewis and Clark Middle School, Creighton Prep and the United Methodist Church were all severely damaged during the outbreak as well.

Omaha was not the only state to have been touched by this dangerous storm system. A two-day outbreak hit most of the Midwest and Southern United States between the 6th and 7th of May. Between six states, 36 tornadoes touched down.

Times has helped to sooth wounds and memories. The city rebuilt and became stronger. But few have forgotten that day. If you remember the tornado of 1975, please send us your account of the storm. Adding it to our archives helps to preserve our history.

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