Commerce, Olive Branch, MS Tornado Damages Small Towns, Feb 1955



Memphis, Tenn. (AP) -- Deadly tornadoes ripped through three Midsouth states Tuesday, leaving 31 dead and about 100 injured along their haphazard path.
The storms, probing from the furious clouds of a squall line, struck in Arkansas and Alabama -- with a bloody jackpot in Mississippi. Extensive property damage was reported.
Twenty-eight were killed near Commerce Landing, Miss., about 30 miles south of here, including an unidentified young girl who died today in a Memphis hospital. Three perished in another twister at Olive Branch, Miss., 18 miles south of Memphis.
Hop-scotching tornadoes also caused considerable damage near Marianna, Ark., and Huntsville, Ala., but no one was seriously injured.
Many Children.
Many of the Mississippi dead and injured were school children. Each twister had an elementary school dead center in its path.
Most of the damage at Olive Branch centered at Wiggins Negro elementary school. Twenty-three students were at their desks when the twister struck. A teacher and two children were killed.
Ambulances from towns in the surrounding delta area moved the injured to hospitals in Memphis and Tunica, Miss.
The 25-bed hospital at Tunica, about 15 miles south of Commerce Landing, was soon jammed. Volunteers, some of the pretty girls in party dresses, were organized to help the staff. A school was converted into a makeshift dormitory for the homeless.
200-Feet Wide.
The Commerce Landing tornado cut a swath 200 feet wide through the 8,000 acre LEATHERMAN plantation, destroying a row of tenant houses, a Negro church, a school and a cotton gin.
W. V. FRANCE said the school was whipped away before his eyes, as if a giant hand had snatched it up and tossed both wreckage and bodies into the boiling clouds.
"Afterward men and women came to the spot," he said. "They would find a child and come crying up the road with it in their arms. It doesn't seem possible anybody got out, but they say two little boys did."
The school had an enrollment of 45. No one knew how many of the children were in the school when the tornado struck. The teacher was among the battered dead.

Dixon Evening Telegraph Illinois 1955-02-02