“The noise sounded like two freight trains going over a trestle right over your head; it was an ugly roar. My wife said the noise when the house went was like a giant pencil sharpener working.”
-Tornado Survivor Robert Blue
The National Weather Service relates that the Flint-Beecher tornado was Michigan’s worst natural disaster in terms of deaths and injuries:
This was the last tornado to kill over 100 people in a single tornado event anywhere in the United States. On June 8th, 1953, 116 people lost their lives in the Flint-Beecher community, and 844 people suffered injuries. The Flint-Beecher Tornado was just one of eight tornadoes that occurred that horrible evening across the eastern portion of the Lower Peninsula. Those other seven tornadoes resulted in an additional 9 deaths, 52 injures, and damage stretching from Alpena to Erie.
The Flint-Beecher tornado was rated as an F5, the highest rating on the Fujita scale of damage. Winds were likely in excess of 200 mph as the 800 yard wide tornado moved on its 27 mile path through Genesee and Lapeer counties. Approximately 340 homes were destroyed, 107 homes had “major damage”, and 153 homes had “minor damage”. In addition farms, businesses and other buildings were destroyed and had damage. These totaled another 50 buildings destroyed and 16 with damage. The damage was estimated around $19 million (about $125 million adjusted for inflation).
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.
Read on for more at Absolute Michigan.
See more in the Flint Public Library’s Beecher Tornado gallery and watch this video account from tornado survivors below.