East Texas Remembers the Columbia Tragedy
February 1 2003 is a day East Texans who lived here in Nacogdoches at the time remember well. The disaster deeply impacted everyone living in the shuttle's path. Mark Greer remembers the day Columbia broke apart in the skies over East Texas. "You could hear the noise about 8 o'clock rumbling through the buildings. Sounded like a bunch of Harley Davidson motorcycles, a bunch of them just rumbling and rattling. Then all of a sudden this piece, this type of aircraft material hit the pavement. and then you could hear some of the smaller stuff hit, sounded kind of like rain... I later found out it was barillo, some type of aluminum." Angie Lopez took her children to a viewing of a Columbia Documentary. "I heard a noise all of a sudden and the house was shaking and I thought, oh no, I need to get the kids its a tornado or something but then i looked outside and it was a beautiful day, you couldn't tell anything had happened."
Ten years later East Texas towns come together to remember the tragedy with exhibits and documentaries. At Nacogdoches City Hall, historians listened to stories and collected pictures of anything people had commemorating the tragedy. Jessica Sowell with with the Historic Sites Management said, "Windows shook, there was a very loud explosion and it went on for about 30 seconds and everyone thought that's what happened. Then when the news came out and they said what happened with NASA, then everyone was like, oh-that's what i heard. It was a very big deal in Nacogdoches. I wasn't living here at the time but people talk about how everyone panicked at first but then they all came together to try and respond."
Everyone we talked to who lived in town at the time shared their stories with us. They clearly remembered the sights and sounds of the disaster that morning and the entire town here then pulled together and were an essential part of the first response team to the tragedy. It's a day they say they'll remember for the rest of their lives.