St. Louis, MO Tornado, May 1896 - Cyclone's Deadly Work

A wild current of electricity crushed the buildings, and added to danger from fire alarm systems which were paralyzed. A $200,000 conflagration on the St. Louis side is supplemented by a dozen lesser fires. In East St. Louis a mill was burned, and other losses bringing the total to half a million. In comparison in size of fatalities and losses, East St. Louis exceeded those on this side of the river. A larger part of the central portion of the city was razed to the ground; on the flats on the north of Adams bridge not a house is left standing. In the latter portion the loss of life is terrible. Scarcely a family escaped without fatality. Many instances of whole households being wiped out of existence. A conservative estimate of the dead is 150. The list of dead included all the boarders at the Martell house, except Judge Hope, of Alton, Ill.; all boarders estimated at 16 at the Tremont house; twenty unidentified bodies at the bridge tower; six unidentified bodies at the electric railway stations; seven unknown dead in the Dublin house and Policeman Thomas Griffin and his family of three.

Daylight Scenes.

When the sun arose on St. Louis and vicinity this morning it showed a scene of terrible ruin, disaster, wind, rain, fire, combined in a mission of destruction. Two hundred lives were lost in this city, and as many more in East St. Louis, while thousands are injured, many so severely that they cannot recover. The exact number will not be known for many days, perhaps never, for the debris of ruined buildings all over the city covers hundreds of corpses. The destruction of property will aggregate many millions of dollars, but cannot be estimated with any degree of accuracy. The terrible tornado which caused this destruction struck the city yesterday afternoon at 3:15. All parts of the city and East St. Louis felt its effects. The greatest damage on this side of the river was inflicted within a three miles strip along the Mississippi. Many buildings were totally collapsed, others unroofed, very few escaped some injury. Depressing sultriness, puffs of wind, by turns from all points of the compass, heavy clouds around the horizon were characteristics of the afternoon. For hours the currents shifted and winds blew hot and cold, and a storm centre developed. In the west a thunder storm developed, and came up slowly at first. As the black rim mounted higher its arch embraced more territory to the north and the south. A strong wind from the east began to blow in the face of the storm. It was a lower current. It raised a dark cloud and brought it forward faster and faster. Suddenly the wind stopped blowing from the east, there swept from the northwest a terrific gale which made the best build structures tremble. When the hurricane broke over the western part of the city, there came a deluge of rain. For half an hour from 3 to 3:30 the hurricane blew from the northwest. Then came a lull, the current shifted and in the southwest a funnel shaped storm cloud formed and burst upon the city from that direction, and struck the city hospital, and tore away through the city to the river in a northeasterly course. It wrought such havoc as will long leave traces in that part of the city east of Seventh street and north of Cherry to the Eads bridge. Boats at the wharf were torn from their moorings and set adrift or capsized. The storm crossed the river, demolished the upper work at the east end of the Eads bridge then wreaked it fury on East St. Louis. With the storm though the sun was still an hour high, daylight gave place to the darkness of midnight. By midnight, reporters for the Associated Press visited all the stricken portions of the city and suburbs. The list of dead discovered fell far below the first estimate, but long enough to be appalling. Crushed beneath falling walls, hurled against the sides of buildings, struck by flying timbers, cut by splintered glass, shocked by torn down wires, humanity suffered in ways innumerable.

Continued