Introductory

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THE PUBLISHERS' INTRODUCTORY.

 

WE shall never know the full extent of the suffering caused by the tornado which devastated a section of St. Louis, Missouri, and a still larger portion of East St. Louis, Illinois, on the afternoon of Wednesday, May 27, 1896. It is known that more than three hundred people were killed and more than a thousand injured. It is known that a great portion of the city of East St. Louis was razed to the ground, and that South of and along the Mill Creek Valley in St. Louis, the cyclone cut for itself a wide path through block after block of residence property.

But it is difficult to even approximate the property loss and an accurate statement will never be made. The first estimates placed the total at $50,000,000. These figures have since been scaled down, but the total remains appalling. No estimate of loss can include the individual suffering, or the deprivation endured in silence by those, who too proud to ask relief, sought such shelter as was available and formed secret and praiseworthy resolutions to begin life over again.

In but a few minutes the savings of a lifetime were, in many instances, scattered to the four winds of heaven. Many were thankful to escape with their lives, absolutely penniless. There was not even time for them to secure possession of their pocketbooks and little keepsakes and mementoes. Death, destruction and desolation went hand in hand, and together brought about a reign of sadness and mourning such as modern or ancient history but rarely records.

One St. Louis citizen who was away from home at the time of the accident, stated on his return that but for the information imparted in the press, he never would have believed that the ruin could have been wrought except by the cannonade of, an immense army, equipped with modern artillery. In describing his sensations on witnessing the scene of devastation he said that he was in Charleston just after the earthquake, and bad entered more cities than one just after they had been stormed during the Civil War. But, he added, he had never seen destruction so complete or ruin so absolute as that wrought by the tornado, whose merciless devastation beggars description and calls for the use of words which would have to be coined for the occasion.

St. Louis is situated in the Mississippi Valley, on the western bank of the Father of Waters. A quarter of a century ago a cyclone blew through the neighborhood, causing great destruction in East St. Louis, but comparatively little on the Missouri shore. Since then there had been two or three trifling earthquake shocks. None of these had been sufficient to do any damage, nor had the thunder and wind storms which visited the city from time to time, wrought serious damage or caused general inconvenience.

The periodical floods in the Mississippi River, the last some four years ago, did great damage in East St. Louis, but practically none in St. Louis itself. In fact the people of the great metropolis of the Mississippi Valley States had for a quarter of A century been free from calamities of wind or water. The feeling of security had become general, and among the younger inhabitants particularly, it was thought that no cyclone or tornado was ever likely to penetrate the hills around the city and enter within its boundaries. The calamity at Sherman, Texas, had shocked every thinking man in St. Louis and a large fund had been raised for the relief of the sufferers in the Texas town. Many who subscribed liberally to the fund were themselves in need of assistance by the time the cyclone had reached and passed through their own city.

The awakening from this feeling of security was a rude one. The fatal day dawned with no exceptional occurrence. There was no friendly warning-there was no cry of "Flee from the wrath to come." True a cyclone had been unofficially predicted for the closing days of May, but the warning was not regarded, not did those- who were aware of it, dream that St. Louis itself would be smitten. Business was conducted as usual, nor was there anything in the condition of the weather early in the day to warrant any exceptional fear, or even thought. The weather bureau predicted local thunder storms, but said nothing of a cyclone, a tornado or even an exceptional wind. The sun shone as usual, but was frequently obstructed by clouds which towards noon became more numerous and threatening in appearance. The barometer began to fall with a steady persistency which alarmed those who have made a study of weather conditions, and who have learned what to expect from peculiar atmospheric conditions.

No one could tell the main direction of the wind, which seemed to come during the early afternoon in fits and starts from all points of the compass, veering around with sudden jerks. Towards three o'clock it became more settled from the Northwest with a number of sub-currents from different directions, which brought in masses of clouds. Gradually darkness seemed to approach and although the officials in the Weather Bureau Observatory do not seem even at this late period of the day to have anticipated a calamity, many people began to fear the worst. In one office building in particular the word was passed around that a cyclone was heading towards the city with lightning rapidity and that unless it was deflected from its course, a terrible calamity might be looked for.

Some received the warning as a jest, but others hurried to their homes and in some cases to their death. The office buildings of this city withstood the shock in a manner which redounds to the credit of their designers and constructors, although of course the full brunt of the storm did not strike them. It was the residence houses which for the most part were destroyed, and these were the most insecure places in which imaginary refugee could be sought.

At 4:30 it became obvious that the atmospheric conditions were unprecedented in the recollection of the people. The temperature fell rapidly and huge banks of black and greenish clouds were seen approaching the city. It gradually became darker and at 5 o'clock it was as dark in many parts of the city as is usually the case at the end of May, three hours later in the evening.

All the time the wind kept rising and in the far distance vivid forks of lightning could be seen. Gradually the thunder storm came nearer the city and the western portion was soon in the midst of a terrible storm. The wind's velocity was about thirtyseven miles an hour. This speedily Increased to sixty, seventy and even eighty miles, by the time the storm was at its height. For thirteen minutes this frightful speed was maintained and the rain fell in ceaseless torrents, far into the sad and never-to-be-forgotten night.

 

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