TERRIBLE TORNADOES IN THE WEST.
IT is but a short time since we recorded the ravages made by a tornado that visited a section of Minnesota, destroying the adjacent towns of St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids and Rice’s Station. At least seventy-four persons were killed outright at that time, 213 others were injured, and property valued at $1,000,000 was destroyed. On that same day, April 14, tornadoes also did great damage in Dakota, Iowa, Missouri and Texas. On Tuesday of this week another terrible windstorm, accompanied by rain and hail, visited Kansas City and several other places in Missouri and Kansas. At Kansas City numerous buildings were wrecked, eighteen lives lost, and many persons injured. The greatest loss of life occurred at the Lathrop school, where twelve children were killed, and many injured. The Lathrop school building occupied a prominent site at the corner of Eighth and Main streets. It consisted of a main building, to which an art wing had been added, and was surmounted by a tower, which has been twice condemned, once within a few weeks, but no action had been taken in the matter. Tuesday morning the building was crowded with children, many of whom went nearly frantic with grief over the appalling darkness and the stillness which preceded the tempest. The wind swept madly from the west and seemed to concentrate its force in a descent upon the tower, which yielded with a crash, and, carrying down the heavy bell, plunged through the intervening floors to the basement. The main building became at once a mass of ruins, within shattered walls which still stand. The wing was comparatively uninjured, and the pupils in there remained unhurt. In the main building, however, the effect was awful. The falling floors precipitated the terrified children to the basement, where masses of bricks and beams crushed them to the ground and buried them from view. Persons hearing the crash made their way as best they could against the beating storm to the scene. The gale quickly subsided, and the work of rescuing was undertaken by eager hands. Owing to the prevailing excitement the first work was not very effective, but the fire department and police soon arrived and an organized search was commenced. The dead and wounded were taken out as quickly as possible and carried to the Natatorium adjoining, which was turned into an hospital. Here the parents and friends of the little ones soon gathered, each searching for his or her own, and uttering heartrending cries as they recognized in the maimed and bleeding forms those whom they loved. Among the first taken out, several were dead and one or two mangled almost beyond recognition, their clothing tom and their bodies covered with dust and mortar, the deathly pallor of the skin showing in painful contrast against the blood stains. Many heroic scenes were enacted during the rescue, and by the wounded children, some of whom seemed to have greater control than their elders. One girl, half buried in the debris, over whom rescuers were busy, begged them to leave her and help a boy beside her, because, she said, he was only five years old. The scenes in the Natatorium as the little ones were brought in and laid upon improvised cots, the dead placed together upon one side, were pitiful beyond expression. A dozen dead were taken out during the day and the bodies sent to the houses of sorrowing families, and several of the children belonged to prominent families in the city.
Greater destruction of property occurred in other sections of the city, and six other lives were lost. The culpability of the authorities in not repairing and strengthening the bell tower of the schoolhouse cannot be too severely denounced. That it should have been left standing after having been twice condemned throws a terrible responsibility on someone. At Leavenworth, Kan., the tornado also did great damage, among other things tearing the roof off of a school-house in which were 600 children, none of whom were injured. On the same day, a wind storm passed over parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia, destroying considerable property but no lives. The following is a record of some of the most destructive tornadoes that have occurred in this country within the past three years:
One of the several tornados occurring June 17, 1883, wiped out nearly one-half of the town of Grinnell, la., leveling many business blocks, churches and dwellings. At least sixty-four and probably more persons were killed, and over 150 others were injured. The money loss attending this disaster was estimated at between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000.
Rochdale, Minn., was visited by a tornado on August 21, 1883, which killed thirty-two people and injured fifty-two. The damage to property amounted to nearly $500,000.
On March 25, 1884, no less than twenty tornadoes occurred, distributed from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico and North Carolina. Their aggregate work was to kill seventy-seven people, injure 300 and wreck property valued at $850,500.
The town of Washington Court House, O., was struck by a tornado on September 29, 1885, and nearly wiped out. Scarcely a business block was left standing. Three churches, the railway stations, several other public edifices and forty dwellings were wrecked in scarcely more than a single minute.
Fortunately, in none of these great disasters has the breaking out of fire added to the horrors of the calamity. This is singular, too, for where so much inflammable debris’ is thrown about, it is surprising that some of it has not come in contact with open fires, and so started a conflagration. But all great disasters impose severe labor upon the firemen, who promptly respond to the cries of distress, and at once enter upon the work of saving life. By common consent, they are expected to take the lead in this respect, and, as in Minnesota and Kansas City, they spend hours working in the ruins, never giving up the self-imposed task so long as there is a possibility of rescuing an injured person or recovering the body of one dead. It is thus that the organizations of firemen prove their value to a community over and beyond the performance of their legitimate duty of protecting lives and property from the flames.