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Chiyo Winters

A Tornado in Sunnyvale


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I’m Chiyo Winters, born in Stockton, California.


During World War II, I was evacuated to Arkansas with my mother and two sisters and we left as soon as possible. My father enlisted in the army and went to Mississippi for training. He was a member of the 442nd combat unit. Not until I was an adult did I realize how lucky I was that he came back because of the high rate of casualties for that year. My mother, sister, and I moved to Missouri during that time, and mother resented the fact that she lost her business during World War II.


My mother and I moved back to California in 1948 after the death of my grandfather. We stayed with my grandmother for about three months, until my parents were able to buy a home in Sunnyvale. I understand they had a hard time buying a home for two reasons: (1) because of prejudice, and (2) because homes were not built during World War II. So my parents bought a home in Sunnyvale in 1948. It was one of the few homes in the area. That’s where I was on the 200 block on Florence Street when the tornado hit on January 11, 1951.


I remember it was a very stormy morning, there was the rain, and hail, and the roar of the wind sounded just like a freight train. The lights went out. It got very quiet. The tornado hit at about 8:20am. That’s why I was still at home because school started at 9 o’clock. It did about 1.5 million dollars of damage in 1951 dollars. Today it would be about 10 million dollars.


I asked if I still had to go to school, and the answer was yes. So we started out and on the way, there was a large redwood tree down on the block. It had fallen not on the street but on the front yard, clipping one person’s porch. We could not take our usual route to school because all the trees had been blown down on Washington. We went down the 100 block of Florence, all the while going very slowly because there were all these power lines lying around. People came running out of the house and asked my father to go notify PG&E that the gas lines were broken. They couldn’t call because the telephone lines were out. When he went to PG&E, they didn’t believe him because the tornado had not hit that part of town.


There were quite a few students missing from school that day. The Red Cross set up at the telephone building which was across the street from the old city hall. After school, I was able to go out and look at the damage. 

The train station was heavily damaged. At the time, Southern Pacific was trying to decide whether to replace the building or not, but Mother Nature decided for them. 

Several homes were heavily damaged. One house in the northeast corner of Charles and Washington had two of its walls blown out. You could see into their bedroom, living room, and dining room. All the corrugated pieces of iron were wrapped around the orchard trees. 

Later I learned that there only one serious injury happened to one of my neighbors – a broken arm. Most of the others were just cuts and bruises – we were lucky. That’s what happened while Sunnyvale was still a small town, less than 10,000 people I think. 

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