Please don’t get me wrong I’m a Christian and believe in the mystery of faith, Christ has died, Christ is risen and Christ will come again. Yes, I believe Christ will rapture his church but I don’t believe anyone knows the day when that will happen. Jesus plainly told this to his disciples. I also don’t believe the recent weather disasters are declaring the end of the world is near. While it’s true the Bible warns that towards the end of time there will be floods, famines and earthquakes the truth remains that these disasters have been happening since the beginning of time. Taking scripture about natural disasters alone is not putting end of time prophecy in its total context. There are many events which must occur before our Savior’s second coming.
In this week’s column I’d like to give a history lesson on natural disasters, namely tornadoes, in order to put the latest tornado outbreaks into perspective. While history gives us examples to follow and a way to avoid mistakes, it can also put events in their place and calm our fears. Once we understand that previous generations have faced the same struggles, we are then inspired to move on and don’t feel so alone in our circumstances. The question remains, are there past events that are similar or even rival the current tornado outbreaks in our country? The answer is yes.
While doing the research for this column, one thing kept popping up on my Google searches concerning tornadoes, a list of the top ten tornado events rating them on their destruction and casualties. Did the Joplin, MO tornado make it on the top ten list? Yes it did, proving that the recent tornado outbreaks are indeed historical and record setting. However, the Joplin tornado ranked number five on one scale and ten on another so other tornado outbreaks have ranked worst than that terrible event. It is worthy to note that trying to rank the recent tornadoes is very much premature as all the data has yet to be tallied. It could be that the twisters that just hit the Midwest and the Southeast may prove to be the worst in severe weather history. Only time will tell. Below I’ve pulled from some top ten lists of the worst tornadoes in U.S. History with hopes of reassuring everyone that we, in our time, are not alone in dealing with these natural disasters.
The Natchez Tornado, 1840
On May 7, 1840 a massive tornado that began seven miles south of Natchez barreled its way up the Mississippi River towards that town and the town of Vidalia, LA. One weather expert said it seemed to center upon the Mississippi River destroying the forest on both sides. By the time the mile wide twister slammed into Natchez and Vidalia it had picked up trees, and debris of every kind. People and property along the banks and in river boats were picked up and thrown inland. The central and northern parts of Natchez were totally destroyed. One newspaper described the horrific scene shortly after the storm passed, “Our devoted city is in ruins…while the dead remain unburied and the wounded groan for help.” This twister is to date the second deadliest tornado in U.S. History. The Natchez twister is also the only tornado that killed more people than it injured. When the tornado finally passed it killed 317 and injured 109. Most causalities were from the river and its banks. The Louisiana side of the river didn’t fare much better. Another quote from the same paper, the Free Trader best sums up what happened there. “There is no telling how widespread has been the ruin.” The newspaper reported how plantations twenty miles inland had lost “hundreds of slaves” and “dwellings swept like chaff from their foundations.” It is said that the death toll on this historical storm was greater than reported as some deaths farther from its impact, mainly in Louisiana, were not included in the final count.
The Dixie Tornado Outbreak 1908
In this event, thirty-four tornadoes touched down east of the Mississippi River impacting states from TX to GA and OK to TN. In a three day period, 320 people were killed and over one thousand injured. The one event that stands out among this outbreak was the total leveling of a town namely Purvis, MS. On that day, April 24, fifty five people lost their lives. According to the McCain Library and Archives at U.S.M. a majority of the residences were “severely damaged or completely destroyed and the business district was leveled.” Purvis was not the only town obliterated during this outbreak. Bergens and Albertville Al were both destroyed the former completely. In Albertville, a nine ton oil tank was found one half a mile from its original location and a nine car freight train was completely overturned and destroyed.
The Dixie Outbreak of 1908 produced an F4 or F5 tornado that cut a path of total destruction an estimated 100 miles long and half a mile wide.
The Tri-State Tornado Outbreak 1925
On March 18, 1925 three states, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana were devastated by a twister that is to date the longest path for a tornado. This tornado stayed on the ground for an estimated two hours and ripped a 217 mile path a half a mile wide killing 747 people. One survivor described the twister as big and nasty “and “so large and low to the ground that it looked like a cloud eating the ground…” This cyclone also holds the record for the most tornado deaths in a single city that being Murphysboro, Illinois with 234 killed and is considered to be the deadliest tornado in U.S. History. Later this inspired forecasters to push technology forward in order to develop a warning system for these monster storms. The desire for better forecasting from that time lead to the meteorologists and weather technologies that we have today that saved hundreds of lives in the recent tornado disasters. Imagine how many more would be dead in Joplin and Tuscaloosa if not for today’s weather forecasting tools.
The people who carried on after these historical storms are a testament of how the human spirit combined with faith in God can rebuild lives from total destruction. At the time, it probably seemed that the world was coming to an end that Biblical prophecy was indeed coming to past soon to usher in the second coming but these storms are now a footnote in history. The recent storms in the Southeast and Midwest will certainly be remembered for their destruction but that will dim in comparison to the people who will pull themselves from the rubble and rebuild whole towns and communities. I am confident that these communities will not only be rebuilt but will rise from the rubble even better. It is this fact that history will remember.