Descriptions of the Top Ten US Killer Tornadoes
#3: The St. Louis/East St. Louis Tornado of 1896
Counties: St. Louis, MO / Madison, IL
This tornado, which was to be one of the deadliest in US history, touched down about 6 miles west of the Eads Bridge in St. Louis. From the northwest edge of Tower Grove Park, this complex combination of tornado and downburst widened to over a mile and moved due east. It collapsed or swept away portions of houses, factories, saloons, hospitals, mills, railroad yards, churches, and caused a total of over $10,000,000 in damage. In most areas, roofs and trees were not carried away, but thrown to the ground. In other areas, homes were swept away. The 36-acre Lafayette Park was turned into "a wasteland of stripped trees and stumps." On the east end of the Eads Bridge (built as tornado proof after the 1871 event in the same place) a 2-inch by 10-inch white pine plank was driven through the 5/16" thick wrought iron plate. No significant damage was done to the steel span of the bridge, but this remains a remarkable example of a tornado's ability to generate missiles. There were 137 people killed at St. Louis. The tornado was apparently at maximum intensity when it crossed the Mississippi River into East St. Louis, Illinois. Buildings and homes along the river were completely swept away, and about a quarter of the buildings in the town were destroyed or damaged. A much smaller area of damage occurred at East St. Louis, with a damage total of about $2,000,000, but the great intensity resulted in 118 deaths. As many as 35 people died in the Vandalia railroad freight yards at East St. Louis. The death total probably does not include the loss of life to people living on shanty boats, whose bodies were washed down river.
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