SANDERSON, TX (KWES) - On June 11, 1965, tragedy struck the town of Sanderson. A massive flood washed away half the community.
"We had never seen a flood like this before," said Curator of the Terrell County Memorial Museum, Bill Smith.
On June 11th at 7:05 a.m., 50 years ago, the town of Sanderson would change forever.
It was a rainy couple of days, but the waters from thunderstorms out west brought at least 11 inches of rain that rushed down Sanderson Creek.
Smith shares a story of a father and son who drove through town minutes before the flood hit.
"They looked back up the creek and the water was already almost to the top of the bank. On top of that, there was a black band, and he looked at that and he thought, 'What in the world is that?' He just did not register what it was. His dad, who was driving, took a second look and said, 'That's water'. It was the wall of water coming but the debris being pushed in front. That's why it was black," said Smith.
Many shouted warnings to residents to head for the hills to get on their roofs and to get out of their homes.
Flood survivor, Frances Corbett, recalls the plea to escape.
"We were called to get out of the house and when I looked out the window, it looked like we were in the middle of the ocean. There was water all over our house. All around our house," said Corbett.
She quickly grabbed her five children and took off in her station wagon.
"The Lopez family, they got washed away, they told me, 'Go to Dryden! Go to Dryden!' And so I turned and started going to Dryden. I didn't know how to drive, I had just started learning how to drive. So I prayed all the way," said Corbett.
The waters came from different directions. As Corbett approached the bridge to Dryden, a truck driver lent a hand to drive her car, as half the bridge had already been swept away by the rushing waters.
"As we were going out, [my children] were sitting looking back, and they said, 'It's coming! It's coming behind us, so hurry Mom! Hurry!' To them it was an adventure, and to me it was a nightmare," said Corbett.
Local ranchers report the waters rising six to eight feet in just five minutes.
Residents still in their homes grabbed their children and tried to swim to safety in eight feet of water.
Bridges, torn apart, battled eight feet of debris. Out of six restaurants, five were washed away. Two miles of railroad, taken by the waters, headed straight for the homes.
"As it moved along, when it came to the house, it just slashed the house in two. Like a giant blade. That track was moving with the flow of water. He watched a lady and her two children die because it just hit their house and there was nothing they could do," said Smith.
The two cemeteries washed away with nearly half of Sanderson.
"So we were faced with not only looking for flood victims but they would come across cadavers from the cemetery," said Smith.
26 residents lost their lives, 10 of which were children. Bodies of the victims would later be recovered as far as Eagle Pass and Laredo.
Corbett's mother was taken by the waters but she was rescued just seconds later after she was pulled out by helpers.
The mother of five didn't lose her home, but everything inside was destroyed.
"I get upset when I talk about it because I relive the whole thing all over. I can see the wall of water coming toward us," said Corbett.
"Some people were so upset that they left town and they didn't come back. They moved. But by and large this was the only home most of these folks had ever known," said Smith.
Now, survivors share their stories in a new book - revealing not just what was lost, but how they overcame.
All six churches in town will host the commemoration ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the flood inside of the pavilion in Sanderson.
If you'd like to purchase the book, contact the Sanderson Chamber of Commerce at (432) 345-2324 or you can also grab a copy at the Visitors Center.
Another book that touches on the flood is The Sanderson Flood of 1965: Crisis in A Rural Community by Russell Ashton Scogin.
LIST OF WEEKEND EVENTS IN SANDERSON:
Friday, July 3rd
8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. Terrell County Living Museum Walk Through "All Things Sanderson" at the Visitor's/Convention Center
8:00 p.m. – 12:00 a.m. Texican Soul Band, Street Dance at the Court House
Saturday, July 4th
7:00 a.m. – 8:00 a.m. Sanderson Flood 50th Commemoration Sunrise Service at the Convention Center on Main St.
9:00 a.m. Terrell County Heritage Garden Dedication
10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Terrell County Living Museum Walk Through "All Things Sanderson" at the Visitor's/Convention Center
11:00 a.m. Parade on Main Street
12:00 p.m. American Legion Lunch
1:00 p.m. Hot Dog Eating Contest at the Court House
2:00 p.m. Old Timer Reunion at the Court House
2:00 p.m. Watermelon Eating Contest at the Court House
3:00 p.m. Ice Cream Contest & Social at the Court House
4:00 p.m. Vietnam War 50th Commemoration at the Court House
9:00 p.m. The Ronnie Fortner Band, Street Dance at the Court House