May 27, 1896 St. Louis Tornado


‘A far more terrible story of death and destruction is that of the St. Louis tornado of May 27, 1896, which lasted but half an hour, killed 306 persons and destroyed property to the amount of $12,000,000.

‘The same tornado visited many places in Missouri and Illinois, causing an additional property loss of $1,000,000.

The sky grew black at 4 p.m, the sun was eclipsed in the whirl of driving dust and dirt, mingled with the branches and leaves of trees, the boards of buildings and other loose material torn off by the wind. At times the wind blew eighty miles an hour. In that mad half hour, while property was crumbling and hundreds of human lives being snuffed out, thousands of maimed and bleeding persons were added to the awful harvest of devastation.

Over in East St. Louis, where the houses were all frail structures, the destruction was greatest. The great Eads Bridge was twisted all out of shape, and freight cars were tossed to and fro, tumbled into ditches and driven sometimes into the fields many yards from where they had stood. The great Vandalia freight house fell in a heap of utter ruin, burying beneath it thirty-five men who had there sought refuge.

The swath cut was three blocks wide and four miles long. The top of the bridge was knocked off as well as the big abutment. The Martell House was blown into the Cokokia Creek and many were buried in the ruins.

To add to the horrors of the night the electric-light plants were rendered incapable of service, and the gas lamps were also shut off, leaving the city in utter darkness. Fire broke out in several portions of the city, and the fire department was unable to make an effective fight because of the choked condition of the streets and the large number of firemen who were engaged in the imperative work of rescuing the dead and wounded.


‘The City Hospital, which fortunately survived the storm, was filled to overflowing with the injured. In addition to those who were killed in their houses and in the strects, scores of dead were carried away by the waters of the Mississippi

River. Many steamers on the levee went down in the storm, From the “Great Republic,” one of the largest steamers on the lower river, not a man escaped. The word “annihilation” is perhaps the only one that can adequately describe the awful work of the tornado.

The rising of the sun in the morning revealed a scene of indescribable horror. The work of carrying out the maimed and dead immediately began, but it was a task of big proportions, as many bodies were totally buried under the debris. Hundreds of families were rendered homeless, and the business portion of the community was almost in absolute ruin.

Lack of food added to the misery. Bread sold for fifteen cents a loaf. A large number of military tents were shipped into the city and many families found shelter in freight yards. The Ohio and Mississippi railroad companies issued permits for the use of their empty cars. Contributions to aid in the work of rebuilding and relief were received and the city council voted $100,000.

It was several weeks before the city began to resume a normal existence. The presence of armed men and endless piles of debris, the suspension of traffic, the grief for departed dear ones, and the sight of the many injured, all contributed to a condition of solemnity and sorrow. ‘The memory of the strange and awful scenes that have been presented by East St. Louis for the past three days,” said one clergyman of the city, “will live in the minds of its inhabitants for years, But our people are too courageous and energetic to be deterred from repairing the physical havoc wrought.”

The True Story of Our National Calamity of Flood, Fire and Tornado … – Google Books

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