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Natchez, MS Tornado

The Great Natchez Tornado hit Natchez, Mississippi was a normal Thursday on May 7, 1840. This tornado is the second deadliest tornado in current history. At least 317 people were killed and about 109 were injured.


The death was likely higher but many of the deaths on the river were not counted because either the bodies floated away, or they weren't from the area, or sadly they were slaves (slaves weren't counted as people).


Stanley Nelson of the Concordia Sentinel wrote this:


Shortly before 1 p.m., a mile-wide tornado -- raging with timber, water and debris of every nature -- slammed into Natchez and Vidalia.


As the river churned with massive waves and whitecaps, flatboats and men were tossed into the airlike sardines. Crews on boats and passengers were swallowed into the river, others were dropped onto land.


The central and northern portions of Natchez were slammed by the funnel as, according to one account, "the air was black with whirling eddies of walls, roofs, chimneys and huge timbers from distant ruins...all shot through the air as if thrown from a mighty catapult."


Along the Natchez and Vidalia banks, homes, stores, steamboats and other vessels were

completely destroyed. Houses in the towns burst open.


"Our devoted city is in ruins," the Free Trader reported, "...while the dead remain unburied and the wounded groan for help."


While many people were eating lunch, the paper wrote, "a storm burst upon our city and raged for half an hour with most destructive and dreadful power. We look around and see Natchez, yesterday lovely and cheerful Natchez, in ruins, and hundreds of our citizens without a shelter or a pillow.


Genius cannot imagine, poetry itself cannot fill up a picture that would match the ruin and distress that every where meets the eye."


In 1840, there was no Red Cross, no National Guard, no Presidential disaster decree, no

mobilization of doctors and emergency personnel from other cities to fly by plane and helicopter into the heart of a disaster area and save lives. The townsfolk did the best they could.


Also this:

Under-the-hill, desolate and in ruin, was a site the paper said "sickens the heart...all, all, is swept away, and beneath the ruins still lay crushed the bodies of many strangers. It would fill volumes to depict the many escapes and heartrending scenes."


A Mrs. Alexander was rescued from the ruins of the Steam Boat Hotel, where she was found

"greatly injured with two children in her arms and they both dead."


The paper reported that "the destruction of the flat boats is immense; at least 60 were tossed for a moment on a raging river and then sunk, drowning most of their crews. The best-informed produce dealers estimate the number of lives lost by the sinking of flat boats at 200! No calculation can be made of the amount of money and produce swallowed up by the river. The Steamboat Hinds, with most of her crew, went to the bottom, and the Prairie from St. Louis, was so much wrecked as to be unfit for use. The steamer St. Lawrence at the upper cotton press is a total wreck."

Only one tornado -- the Tri-State Tornado of March 18, 1925 -- was deadlier than the one in Natchez in 1840. That tornado, an F5, traveled through Missouri, Illinois and Indiana, killing 695 and injuring 2,027.


Remember folks, tornadoes can happen anywhere at anytime, so always be aware when HLEW and other sources point out a chance of tornadoes in the forecast.


Thanks for reading, have a great week!

Article published on May 8th, 2023 by Greg Dixon

HLEW Weather Rewind



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