The Flood of 1965
A community in turmoil
Sometimes communities go through terrible times of great danger, death and destruction. Such it was for Sanderson on June 11,
1965. After a night of intense rain, at 7:00 a.m. a wall of water came surging down Sanderson Canyon, engulfing our community
and causing massive destruction and the loss of twenty-six lives.
Looking down 1st Street, with Sanderson Creek overflowing its banks in background. Kerr Mercantile building on right.
Flood waters rose to edge of sidewalk on the Kerr building.The distance from the centerline on Oak St. to the far bank is 535 yards,
or, 1,600+ feet.
The force of the water washed away railroad and highway bridges and twisted heavy steel rails into unimaginable wads of metal.
Frame homes washed down the creek or smashed on the highway bridge and adobe homes melted and collapsed under the helpless victims
who had gone aloft to escape the flood waters.
To make matters even worse, the flood waters roared through the Santa Rita and Cedar Grove Cemeteries, destroying grave sites, disinterring
caskets and bodies and washing away markers. The town was devastated and the scene was horrific.
Makeshift morgues were set up to handle remains and a massive relief effort was begun, beginning in Sanderson itself and spreading
throughout West Texas and more distant points. Rescue workers and recovery teams began to pore over the wreckage and plans were
made and put into operation to take care of those who survived and had lost everything.
Gradually, order and a sense of purpose replaced the chaos of those first few hours and progress began to be made to restore the community,
though it was understood that things could never be the same. There was far too much death and destruction for this small, idyllic
community to return to its days of innocence before the tragedy.
And even today the horrors that occurred decades ago are still fresh in the minds of those who witnessed and experienced the fateful
events. Even folks who were small children at the time have their own stories to tell of that terrible June morning and the
weeks that followed. But the community, at least on the surface, recovered and life returned to "normal."
Today most evidence of the Flood of 1965 is gone. Homes and businesses were demolished or rebuilt as necessitated by the degree
of damage. Families grieved and learned to deal with the loss of loved ones. The quiet, country lifestyle of old Sanderson
returned and life moved on.
But we did learn lessons and make discoveries from the event. Like many families there
is squabbling and discord among brothers and sisters, but when momentous and cataclysmic events occur the family pulls together.
People that formerly were divided by racial and cultural tensions overcame their bias and, seeing only suffering humanity, dealt
with the situation to the best of their means and talents. Sanderson discovered that it has a great, quiet cadre of folks who
are willing to do whatever is necessary to help their brothers in need. That is a lesson that all people and all communities
need to learn.
Many folks were saved, miraculously, with harrowing tales of mortal danger and close encounters with death. But others, even
whole families, were not so fortunate. One body was found ten years later, and one was never recovered. Some unfortunate
victims were found as far away as 500 miles, drifiting in the Rio Grande.
Railyards on west side of Sanderson, completely washed away. Highway 90 and Cargile Street intersection at upper middle.
Nicholas Flores home - Mr. Flores was lost but Mrs. Flores saved herself by holding on to trees.
Cedar Grove Cemetery, lower center, and Santa Rita Cemetery, above but almost indiscernible, were totally devastated by the flood
Photos courtesy of the Grigsby Collection at Terrell County Memorial Museum
This photo, Calvin Hutto, copyright 2010