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Tornadoes As National Catastrophes: the Tri-State Tornado and Its Effects

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A Natural Disaster

By dictionary definition, a natural disaster is a natural event such as a flood, earthquake, or hurricane that causes great damage or loss of life. But a natural disaster is much more than that. Natural disasters can strike swiftly, destroying lives by wrecking homes and causing physical injury or death. Nobody can predict the future, but by studying natural disasters we can learn from the past to benefit our future. By studying natural disasters we can learn how to make structures stronger in order to survive things such as an earthquake, how to react in case of a natural disaster such as what safety steps to take in order to survive and how to detect when a natural disaster such as a tsunami will occur.

The earth has endured many natural disasters that have claimed millions of lives altogether and have taken millions of dollars worth of damage. But what are some of the world’s worst natural disasters?

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  1. Haiti earthquake: On January 12, 2010, Haiti was initially hit with a magnitude 7.0 earthquake with aftershocks measuring magnitude 5.5 and 5.9. It was estimated that around three million people were affected by the earthquake. Without proper reinforcement, a lot of buildings and homes were destroyed killing and trapping anyone inside.
  2. Hurricane Katrina: On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast of The United States. Thousands of people in Louisiana and Mississippi were left homeless and this disaster left the country with an estimated $100 billion dollars in debt after the storm and flooding.
  3. The Yellow River Flood: In September 1887, a devastating flood occurred on the Yellow River in China. It was one of the worst floods to ever occur in human history leaving millions of people homeless and bringing the death toll to an estimated 900 000 – 2 000 000 people.

Tornadoes

What

A tornado is a violently rotating column of air that extends from a thunderstorm to the ground. The winds within a tornado can reach 250 miles an hour and can also clear a pathway a mile wide and 50 miles long.

Where

Tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world including North America, Europe, Africa, Australia, Asia, and South America. “Tornado Alley” is a nickname given to an area located in the central parts of the united states because it consistently experiences a high frequency of tornadoes each year.

When

Tornadoes can really occur at about any time of the year. In most southern states tornadoes usually occur between March and May. On the Gulf Coast, they occur usually during the spring season and in the Northern states, tornadoes usually occur in the summer ( June and July ).

Why

Tornadoes are usually formed from thunderstorms. The biggest tornadoes are usually formed from supercell thunderstorms which are thunderstorms with deep rotating updrafts. In order for a tornado to form the air conditions need to be warm and moist near the surface and cold and dry in the air.

What Are The Effects

Just like any other natural disaster, the effect of a tornado results in major catastrophes. They are lives lost, property damaged, forests and lakes destroyed and displaced, and they leave millions of people homeless.

For example, the Tri-State Tornado which occurred on Wednesday, March 18th in 1925 was the deadliest tornado ever recorded in U.S history. The tornado’s name comes from the distance traveled. The Tri-State Tornado traveled approximately 235 miles passing through three states: Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. In Illinois, the tornado passed through the counties Franklin, Hamilton, Jackson, White, and Williamson. In Indiana, it passed through Gibson, Pike, and Posey counties. Finally, in Missouri Bollinger, Iron, Madison, Perry, and Reynolds counties were all affected. The formation of the tornado came as a surprise to most since the weather forecast predicted the weather as normal except with a mild thunderstorm. That’s because the word “tornado” was been banned from U.S. weather forecasts since the late 19th century to prevent panic among the general public which was a huge mistake. To make matters worse the tornado also traveled at a very fast pace with an average distance of 62 miles per hour but reached a high at 73 miles per hour.

The weather on March 18th, 1925 was in fact “spring-like” with humidity in the air. But no one had any idea that the humid dry air near the surface of the earth would combine with the cold dry air from above and form the super tornado that has affected so many. But just what was the price people had to pay from the formation of the Tri-State Tornado? At approximately 1:00 pm on March 18th, 1925 the Tri-State Tornado set its course of destruction on the people living in Illinois, Indiana, and Missouri. The effects of the tornado were catastrophic. The damage was put at an estimated $16.5M in 1925. In 2017 $16.5M converts to approximately $26,502,421.26 worth of damage. The Tri-State Tornado was only one part of a deadly outbreak that started a chain reaction with several other tornadoes all occurring on the same day. The most devastating thing about this tornado was probably how many lives it took with is as it moved on further covering state by state.

The tornado touched down on a forest in Reynolds County Missouri. Sam Flowers, a farmer in Reynolds County was riding his horse, Babe, began their journey back to their farmhouse but had no idea he was about to face the Tri-State Tornado head-on. The sky grew dark and heavy winds started to take a toll on the farmer and his horse. Large waves of lightning and thunder sent the horse galloping in panic as large pieces of hail came plummeting towards the earth. When Babe returned to the farm without Sam it was unclear what had happened to him. A little while late Sam’s body had been found with his head smashed underneath a tree and the Tri-State Tornado has officially claimed its first victim. The tornado claimed another 695 other lives and left approximately 2027 other people were left with painful injuries.

The Illinois death toll was the largest claiming an estimated 613 lives total which is the largest death toll coming from any tornado recorded. In Gorham Illinois near the center of the town a building was destroyed containing both grade school and high school students. As the tornado ripped through the small town it toor the roof right off of the building causing the walls to collapse over the student and teachers inside. Thirteen-year-old Margaret Brown was killed by the collapse when a large support beam fell on her from the roof. Nine other schools across the three states were also destroyed and killed another 69 students. Murphysboro was one of the most hardest hit areas during the tornado’s path of destruction, with 234 deaths. The city was completely wiped out after the tornado has passed by.

Murphysboro was home to around 15000 people and was a town on the rise. It was very popular in the 19th century because of the city’s view on prohibition at the time. While speakeasies and illegal alcohol production towns and cities nearby were beginning to get shut down, alcohol in Murphysboro was never hard to find. Eight minutes after destroying the town of Gorham, the Tri-State Tornado started its destructive path on Murphysboro. Neighborhoods were completely destroyed with some homes getting their roofs ripped right off of them and others completely blown into the sky. Seventeen children died when the Longfellow School collapsed because of the strong winds and many more families experienced similar casualties. In total 120 city blocks were destroyed. The tornado eventually passed and the storm died down but the city was not finished facing horrors. At the time, coal-burning stoves were popular and after being thrown around the city from the tornado they began starting fires from the destroyed homes and broken down trees. Many people who were lucky enough to survive the tornado unfortunately burned to death because they were still trapped in their homes and the fire got out of hand. After becoming trapped in the basement of the Blue Front Hotel, 18 people burned to death because they weren’t able to escape.

Betty Moroni who was 7 at the time survived the tremendous event that took place that March afternoon. She was at school before the tornado broke out and could recall ” She could barely stand against the strong winds that were already blowing ominously from the direction of Murphysboro” (Hottensen 2015, 1). Once the weather got a little too out of hand all the students were asked to come in from recess and take shelter inside the school. Betty barely had a chance to sit down at her desk next to her sister when the tornado hit her school. Her sister and 17 other students in her class were killed. “There were only three boys left in my class,” Moroni said. “They were all killed in the tornado, all but three.’ (Hottensen 2015, 1). After Betty escaped the school she didn’t have a home, let alone even know the way home since every part of her town was blown all over the place. Betty ended up getting reunited with her injured parents and two other sisters but one more of her sisters was missing. “Two days later, searchers found the bodies of three girls in an outhouse that had been blown across the railroad tracks’ (Hottensen 2015, 1). Betty’s sister and two other girls sought refuge in the outhouse when the tornado hit. A week later, her other sister Elsie died at the hospital being the third Moroni sister to die from the tragic event. Her father also passed away the next spring even though he survived the tornado but he had serious head injuries. She continues to describe, “We didn’t have Social Security; we didn’t have any government handouts, and you just did it the hard way. My mother wasn’t the only one that lost family. Our family had the most that were killed, but there were people who lost two children and several that lost one” (Hottensen 2015, 1). Betty Moroni could only describe the event as a nightmare that literally tore her family apart.

Structural damage wasn’t the only type of damage done by the Tri-State Tornado, It also caused a lot of damage in the environment. The tornado was considered to be an F5/EF5 which meant that it was strong enough to blow off an inch of topsoil from any large landmass area. By removing that one inch of topsoil that means that any signs of life forms that were in the soil were removed as well which meant plant and vegetation growth would be a lot more difficult after because all the important nutrients that were in the topsoil would have been blown away. Topsoil is also very important for farming since it provides a lot of nutrients crops need to grow so if it was removed from the storms the agricultural business would be strongly affected since crops wouldn’t grow as effectively. The tornado sucked up lakes and rivers as it traveled killing any unfortunate aquatic species that crossed its path. Furthermore, As the tornado passed through the three states it destroyed many homes. Asbestos is an “a soft, greyish-white material that does not burn, used especially in the past in buildings, clothing, etc. as a protection against fire and as a form of insulation (Cambridge Dictionary 1). Asbestos is also very toxic to humans and animals so as the tornado destroyed the homes the wind picked up a lot of asbestos putting it into the atmosphere which ended up into the soil, lakes, and rivers which ended up poisoning plants, animals and the people living in and out of the three states since the winds traveled very far.

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