Scores die in wake of New Richmond storm

Some called it cyclone, others tornado, but whatever, the storm that hit New Richmond June 12, 1899 left 119 persons dead and destroyed and an uncounted number of buildings. This scene is at the edge of New Richmond. The storm was the worst, in lives lost, to strike the northwest part of the state. (State Historical Society WHi (x3) 31014.

     June 12, 1899, started calm and quiet in new Richmond. Mrs. Kate Heffron of nearby Boardman looked into the sparkling blue, flawless sky of morning and thought she'd never seen a more promising day.
     Later, though, the people of the growing town of 2,300 noticed it was becoming unseasonably warm and humid. By later afternoon, the air was stifling and people began leaving the circus ahead of the brewing storm.
     They looked hopefully at the developing clouds, holding promise of rain, a cooling shower. The rain was a disappointment, however, coming down in heavy drops at unusual intervals.
     Three men and their drive traveling form Hudson to River Falls were the first to experience the storm. Their surrey was overturned and they were dragged with it into a nearby grain field.
     This was the beginning; before dying, the tornado cut a 60-mile path across two Wisconsin counties.
     Kate Heffron, earlier so hopeful about the day, was the tornado's first fatality. She died amid flying debris in her home.
     Mrs. Wears sent her young son, Dick, out to see if it was going to rain, noticing the increasing darkness. "How can it rain mommy, when there's a big umbrella up in the sky?" Dick said. He showed his mother that indeed an umbrella was outside and its handle was touching the ground.
     When the storm hit New Richmond, people were rushing in panic, searching for safety. In seven minutes, the twister cut a half-mile path through the heart of the city. Buildings of all type materials lay flattened, persons trapped in the debris.
     Monstrosities as incredible as horses wrapped around telephones wires and chickens, running wild, plucked of all their feathers were left in the storm's wake. The bridge over the Willow River was left twisted along the bank.
     Monstrosities as incredible as horses wrapped around telephones wires and chickens, running wild, plucked of all their feathers were left in the storm's wake. The bridge over the Willow River was left twisted along the bank.
     A few moments of silence followed and a weird green light covered the scene. All this was more ominous and eerie than the storm. Rain followed for an hour and a half, violently assaulting the ruins and hampering rescue efforts.
     After the rains came fire. In a dozen places, flames were started by overturned lamps and cook stoves. Amid the burning wreckage came cries from trapped victims as others worked to free them. Then more rain extinguished the fires.
     Most rescue operations were conducted in darkness. There was no hospital and only a few buildings were still usable to shelter the injured. A church was used as a morgue.
     When operations were complete, the death toll reached 119 and the injured numbered 146. Many of the latter died later of injuries.

Extracted from the Eau Claire Leader Telegram
Special Publication, Our Story 'The Chippewa Valley and Beyond', published 1976
Used with permission.

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