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Aftermath of Flash Flood in Sanderson (1965)

Gordon Wilkison

Silent | 1965

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  •  Damage to the low-lying residential areas 
  •  Fly-over footage of the damage upstream of Sanderson 
  •  Starting the clean-up process 
  •  View of the town from above 
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This news footage shot by Gordon Wilkison for Austin’s KTBC-TV captures the aftermath of the 1965 flash flood in Sanderson in West Texas. On the night of June 10, a thunderstorm moved into Terrell County from the west, sending heavy rain over Sanderson Canyon. The storm intensified by the early morning of June 11, with the U.S. Weather Bureau reporting rains up to eight inches in two hours. Runoff began to build in the dry canyons upstream of Sanderson, breaching a diversion dike and washing out the area between the road and railroad embankment. The rising floodwater continued downstream, breaking bridges and dams, as seen in the footage. The wall of water reached Sanderson by 7 in the morning, sweeping through the business district and low-lying residential areas at a rate of 14.7 feet per second. The rushing water devastated the town, overturning cars and sweeping homes and businesses into the Rio Grande River. Twenty-six people lost their lives. Following the deadly flood, a network of 11 dams was built to protect the town from future tragedies.
Gordon Wilkison began work as a cameraman at the local Austin television station KTBC (now FOX 7) during 1952, its first year of operation. At the time, the station was owned by the Texas Broadcasting Company, which was owned by Senator Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson. This relationship would continue to shape Wilkison's career well into the next decades. During the Johnson administration, Wilkison covered the President's visits to Texas, preparing material for national and international news correspondents. 
A particularly notable moment in his career occurred on August 1, 1966, when Wilkison and KTBC reporter Neal Spelce risked their lives to capture footage of the Tower shooting at the University of Texas. 
Wilkison was also the General Manager of Photo Processors at the LBJ Broadcasting Corporation, which he later took over and renamed Cenetex Film Labs. In addition to his camera work and film processing, his work at the station also included direction of a number of television film productions.
Outside of KTBC, Wilkison shot, edited, and processed Longhorn football game footage for the University of Texas at Austin, a partnership that lasted nearly 30 years.    
Recognizing the historical value of film and news footage, Wilkison kept the material, later contributing hundreds of reels to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image's collection.