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Joplin tornado surpasses death toll of Michigan's worst tornado

An F4 intensity tornado moves through Erie, Michigan on June 8, 1953. That same day there were eight tornadoes in Michigan, including Michigan's deadliest - the F5 Beecher tornado killed 116 people as it touched down north of Flint.

UPDATE 9:51 pm: Officials in Joplin, Missouri now report at least 122 people have been confirmed dead as a result of the tornado.


In Joplin, Missouri, at least 117 people were killed by an F4 tornado and more than 1,000 are unaccounted for, according to the New York Times.

It's the worst tornado to hit the United States in 64 years (181 people were killed by a tornado in Woodward, Oklahoma in 1947), and it surpasses the death toll of Michigan's worst tornado which struck in 1953.

The 1953 Flint-Beecher Tornado killed 116 people in a community just north of Flint. The F5 tornado is listed as the country's 10th deadliest tornado by NOAA's Storm Prediction Center.

The tornado had winds in excess of 200 miles per hour, was 800 yards wide, and traveled on a path for 27 miles. From NOAA:

So great a number were killed by the monstrous tornado that the National Guard Armory building, along with other shelters, was turned into a temporary morgue. The scene of bodies pouring into the Armory (as an intermittent light rain poured outside) was incredibly bleak and horrifying, especially for the families and friends of the victims. At least 100 people waited outside into the rainy night before they could move inside to try and identify the bodies.

NOAA set up a 50th anniversary commemorative website for the 1953 tornado which includes memories from some of the survivors.

Harry Pendergrass was four years old when the tornado struck:

I can remember that we went into the house because the weather was getting bad. My sister was in the kitchen eating a bowl of cereal in the kitchen, I was trying to watch the new TV that we had gotten and my father was at the back door trying to keep it closed because the wind kept blowing it open. Mother was not home at the time, she was downtown shopping. My next memory was lying in a hospital bed asking my mother where my sister and father were and not believing her when she said they were gone. I was only four and a half at the time and just did not understand.

It's hard to imagine what it's like to be in a tornado of that magnitude. We rely on first person accounts.

Today, recording devices are ubiquitous and storm chasers often film these amazing storms from a safe distance. It's rare to hear or see recordings from inside a tornado. One survivor of the Joplin tornado had a camera rolling while they huddled inside a store. If you haven't heard it yet, here's the terrifying video:


Mark Brush was Michigan Radio’s Digital Media Director. He succumbed to a year-long battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in March 2018. He was 49 years old.
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