Survivor of 1927 F5 tornado in Rocksprings recalls harrowing event

90-year anniversary of deadly tornado to be commemorated in Rocksprings

ROCKSPRINGS, Texas – While March is still a week away, severe weather has already left its mark on South Texas. By April and May, severe weather will only become more common. In fact, it was almost 90 years ago, on April 12, 1927, that one of the deadliest tornadoes in Texas’ history struck Rocksprings. 

The tornado was later rated an F-5, with estimated winds over 200 miles per hour, based on damage at the time.  Amazingly, a firsthand account is still available, courtesy of 97-year-old Rocksprings resident, Modell McCoy.  

"I'm not afraid of [tornadoes] like I used to be,” McCoy said. 

One of only two known survivors, McCoy recalled that spring day.

"The storm, the cloud, came up and it was a terrible looking cloud,” McCoy said.

McCoy was supposed to be at a recital at the town’s school house, but his mother intervened.

“My mother said, 'No. The cloud looks too bad and I’m not going to let you go,'" McCoy said.

That turned out to be a life-saving decision. The hotel that McCoy’s mother operated would be their safe haven.  The structure only lost its roof.

"It was blown over the house and cut into and set up just like this over the windows of the room we were in,” explained McCoy, using her fingers to show how the roof acted as a makeshift shield for the building. "You can't tell me God wasn't taking care of us."

For much of the rest of Rocksprings, it was a different story. Structures were flattened and fires raged. To this day, it ranks as the third deadliest tornado in Texas history, with an estimated 74 fatalities, a third of the town’s population.

Two hundred and five residents were injured, with 95 percent of the town’s buildings destroyed. Amazingly, 90 years later, debris from the tornado can still be found in an empty field just east of Rocksprings. The twisted metal exemplifies the fact that the history of the event will not soon be forgotten.

"We want to make sure nobody forgot what happened here,” said Kari Cloudt, with the Edwards County Historical Commission.

The Edwards County Historical Commission will be commemorating the tornado on April 12. The event will be held at the Rocksprings Independent School District Auditorium at 6 p.m. It is open to the public and will feature pictures and stories from the night of the tornado.

Meanwhile, people can still find storms cellars throughout the town, with many of them built just after the tornado. It is another example that residents refused to let Rocksprings get wiped off the map.

"Rocksprings was destroyed, basically, but Rocksprings rebuilt and we're still here,” Cloudt said. “It’s 90 years later, and we're not going anywhere."

The best example of that perseverance may be Modell McCoy, who never contemplated leaving and remains content in the town she has always called home. 

"I’m perfectly happy,” McCoy said.

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About the Author

Justin Horne is a meteorologist and reporter for KSAT 12 News. When severe weather rolls through, Justin will hop in the KSAT 12 Storm Chaser to safely bring you the latest weather conditions from across South Texas. On top of delivering an accurate forecast, Justin often reports on one of his favorite topics: Texas history.

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