IN THE STORMíS PATH
In bringing to Omaha the unenviable distinction of being the scene of the most disastrous tornado in the history of the United States, not even excepting that of St. Louis over a decade ago, Easterís big twister plainly marked its path, the width of which may be measured in feet and inches; Great residences and buildings were cut so cleanly in two that a mathematician might employ the calipers in aligning the exact, razor edge of the storm.
As far as can be ascertained, the twister started upon its career of horror somewhere in Cass county, wiping out the town of Yutan, and then striking through Waterloo and Ralston. Its zig-zag course was baffling, and many towns reported losses which indicate that the main stem of the tornado was constantly giving off smaller twisters which acted as flankers with the deadly intent of making a clean sweep over the outlying territory. Gretna and Union and Berlin felt the force of the wind, but the chief disaster lay in the path of the big, wide, all-powerful cloud which entered Omaha almost exactly at the city limits on Center street.
The eastern boundary of the death-strewn course at this point seemed to be the county hospital and poor farm. Although the main building, with its hundreds of helpless inmates, was happily spared, all of the barns and outhouses of various sorts were swept clean. Ambitious golfers on the Field club links and on the verandas of the club house saw the work of devastation in progress. The western boundary lay along the Falls City branch of the Missouri Pacific until Forty-eighth and Leavenworth streets was reached, when the tornado seemed to swerve still more to the northeast, storming up the acclivity to the fashionable Farnam hill residence district. At this point the path was about five blocks in width and nothing but ruin was left within its confines. Forty-first street and Thirty-eighth street seemed the lines of demarkation at Dodge street.
But a minor twister detached itself from the main body in going over this hill and swept for several blocks down the draw along the Belt Line toward Walnut Hill. Luckily there were few houses or buildings along this path, and but comparatively little damage was done, the little tornado drawing itself into the sky before the densely populated district in Walnut Hill was reached.
The trail of the storm struck Farnam about Fortieth street, and ran northeast through Bemis Park just east of the Methodist hospital, which was untouched. The big garage of the Packard Company at Fortieth was the first total wreck, with debris of broken machines and brick walls. West of Fortieth in the valley a few houses were wrecked and south on Fortieth as far as the neighborhood of the St. Cecilia cathedral, which was practically untouched, fine residences were wrecked on both sides of the street, including Dr. A. B. Somers, the Barnes drug store and Judge Slabaughís residence.
Thirty-ninth street was full of wrecked houses from Farnam to Mr. Joslynís $100,000 home, which had stones knocked out, windows wrecked, roof partially off and garage quite badly wrecked. Most of the houses on Thirty-ninth were badly wrecked to that point. Steering northeast, the trail struck Thirty-eighth street, where from Dodge north to Webster street the big mansions were in various degrees of ruin. Saunders school, in the valley west of Fortieth, had a great hole in the roof and windows out. Sacred Heart convent was quite badly damaged, part of the roof off, walls shaken and windows out. From about Thirty-seventh on Burt street east to Thirty-fourth the wreck was terrible. Homes of W. F. Baxter and T. B. Norris were piles of kindling. Houses were cut in two, with beds exposed in upper stories and debris dumped into the street. The trail crossed Cuming about Thirty-sixth. While the hospital was not damaged, the home of J. H. Rushton, just a little east of north, was skinned in front, leaving the walls standing. It struck Lincoln boulevard about Thirty-fifth street, at the Dresher house, and from there east there was a total wreck of houses clear out of the park district. On Hawthorne it struck just west of Thirty-fourth at the home of W. A. Case, knocking out all windows and damaging his home and that of J. C. Buffington, but the fury of the storm leveled the houses from the boulevard north on Thirty-fourth street to Lincoln and Myrtle avenues, where much damage was done. Lafayette avenue, on the hill, was untouched, the storm following the valley. Then it lifted to the northeast.
Passing almost directly northward along the crest of the hill, which is known as Omahaís best home property, the tornado entered the Bemis park district, and left that beautiful section an awe-inspiring conglomeration of wreckage. At this point the path was about two blocks wide and proceeded directly northeast to Twenty-fourth and Burdette streets, traveling east of Thirty-third. It followed the contour of the hill, and Burdette was practically the south boundary of the destruction on Twenty-fourth. From thence the storm sped north and east of Twenty-fourth, through Kountz place, across Twenty-fourth and Lake streets, where many lives were lost, and thence diagonally to Sherman avenue.
In crossing Sherman avenue the path extended from Binney street on the south to Emmet street on the north, and scarcely anything was left intact. Striking over the bluffs into the railroad yards, the tornado devasted the Missouri Pacific roundhouse, wreaked its fury on the rolling stock and then seethed across Carter Lake and the East Omaha bottoms.
A terrible, but beautiful spectacle accompanied the crossing of the lake, when the twister sucked the water high into the air, a real water spout. The cottages along the lake were mostly destroyed, the Illinois Central trestle obliterated and scores of store buildings wrecked. At this point the width of the path is said to have been nearly half a mile wide.
Crossing the Missouri river, the twister struck the bluffs and seemed to turn southward. That this was the case is evident from the damage done in the city of Council Bluffs, which reports that the storm came from the north.
At the same time another outrider of the main body of the tornado was crossing the river in Sarpy county, flitting up the Mosquito creek through Lake Manawa and the scattering residences and farms thereabouts. Another waterspout was noted on Manawa. This cornparatively small twister disappeared after this work of destruction.
Other twisters were reported all up and down the Missouri and Platte river valleys, indicating the scope of the cyclonic conditions.
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© 2001, Lynn Waterman