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butler county mo 1927 tornado - deems account Transcribed and submitted by: Sherry Link[email protected]

History of Butler County Missouri
by David Bruce Deem, Probate Judge, Butler County, MO

A catastrophe, the like of which has never been known before in South Missouri with the possible exception of the New Madrid earthquake in 1811, was the tornado which struck Poplar Bluff at 3: 17 p. m. Monday, May 9, 1927. Eighty two persons were killed, hundreds were injured and property damage was estimated at over $4,000,000. The tornado seemed to strike first on south Fifth street and curve slightly to the east and then north through the business section of the city. It crossed the river near the Vine street bridge, wrecking several buildings and many homes. The duration of the tornado has been estimated at about one minute. Flying debris filled the air, hundreds of automobiles were crushed beneath tons of brick, steel and timber and buildings and homes were leveled. Every business block on Main street and Broadway was damaged; the courthouse and jail were wrecked; the New Melbourne hotel, a brick structure at the corner of Broadway and Maple collapsed with a loss of 18 lives. A rooming house across the street from the new Melbourne caught fire and the owner, Mrs. Belle Lade, was trapped inside the building and burned to death; the Elks club building was a tangled mass of ruins; the Bilkey building on South Fifth street, a heavy concrete block structure, was blown down and three occupants, Howard Bilkey, Thomas Stone Bilkey and Bryan Arthur Bilkey were killed. The East Side school building was partly demolished. Miss Minnie Smith, principal of the school, and other teachers succeeded in protecting most of the students from injury, although one child Harry Rexford, 10, was killed and several hurt. Within four hours after the tornado struck, Red Cross relief trains were enroute to the city from St. Louis and doctors and nurses came from throughout Southeast Missouri to assist local physicians and nurses who were taking care of the hundreds who were injured. Large crews of men started cleaning the streets, removing dangerous portions of buildings and repairing structures where possible the day after the tornado. Other crews dug into the debris searching for bodies of victims. E. N. Shunk, an Associated Press correspondent from S. Louis, said the damage was greater than that caused by the Murphysboro, Ill., tornado which struck the Southern Illinois city on March 18, 1925. Within two days after the storm struck, Poplar Bluffians announced their buildings would be rebuilt or repaired without delay. Among the property owners in the business district of Poplar Bluff whose buildings were damaged were W. N. Barron, Charles Miller, Mrs. W. W. Turner, Carl and Ed Abington, C. M. Duncan, Mike Saracini, Grover Dalton, Snider and Hamilton, Walter Ducker, A. W. Greer, George Begley, Mrs. Dwight Brown, Paul C. Hays, State Bank of Poplar Bluff, M. C. Horton, H. J. Morrison, the Kirkhoff estate, John Berryman, Mrs. Henry Ferguson, the City of Poplar Bluff, John Corrigan and Jerry Bradfield. Several hundred grief stricken citizens gatered at the courthouse square at 10 a. m. May 12, to pay their last respects to the victims of the storm. Memorial services were conducted by the Ministerial Alliance. Dr. J. L. Lindsay was placed in charge of a special police force composed of members of the American Legion. The Spanish war veterans enlisted their services and worked with the legionaires in patrol(l)ing the city. The Red Cross brought in 60 tents, cots and bedclothing for use of families made homeless by the tornado. The Daily Republican was ready for the press when the tornado struck. The plant and equipment was damaged to the extent of several thousand dollars. With power cut off and the building in ruins, there was no chance to issue even a bulletin with a list of the known dead the following day. The bulletin was printed on a job press operated by hand. Sand, grit and water in the delicate typesetting machines prevented their use until virtually every piece had been removed and carefully cleaned. The tornado killed 10 persons southwest of Poplar Bluff. A letter was carried from a desk in the State Bank building to Lutesville, MO., 70 miles away. The four month old daughter of Henry Brown was found unhurt in East Poplar Bluff 18 hours after the storm. A poll tax recipt belonging to Henry Luper was found at DuQuoin, Ill., 157 miles from Poplar Bluff, and returned by John R. Lynch who found it near his home. L. L. Brown and wife who resided in the Cravens school district were in Poplar Bluff during the storm. When they returned home they found their three children and Mrs. Brown's mother killed and three other children seriously injured. The heart of the nation poured out sympathy to Poplar Bluffians distressed by the storm. Messages of sympathy were sent by the mayors of most of the Southeast Missouri cities and several civic organizations throughout the district sent relief funds to the storm victims. The Malden Red Cross sent $500, Senator James A. Reed of Missouri sent $250, the St. Louis Knights of Columbus lodge sent $1000, The City of Paragould, Ark., sent $500, Citizens of Dudley sent $136, The F. W. Woolworth Company of St. Louis sent $100, the National Needle Work Guild sent $300, the Mississippi Valley Trust Company of St. Louis sent $200 and the j. C. Penney company's New York headquarters sent $1000. Hundreds of other donations, too numerous to mention in this work, were mailed to relief workers and agencies for the benefit of the tornado victims.


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