Natchez, MS Terrible Tornado Destruction, May 1840
DREADFUL VISITATION OF PROVIDENCE.
From the Natchez Free Trader -- Extra.
Friday Eve., 6 o'clock.
About 1 o'clock on Thursday, the 7th inst., the attention of the citizens of Natchez was attracted by an unusual and continuous roaring of thunder to the southward, at which point hung masses of black clouds, some of them stationary and others whirling along with under currents, but all driving a little east of north. As there was evidently much lightning, the continual roar of growling thunder, although noticed and spoken of by many, created no particular alarm.
The dinner bells in the large hotels had rung, a little before 2 o'clock and most of our citizens were sitting at their tables, when, suddenly, the atmosphere was darkened, so as to require the lighting of candles, and, in a few moments afterwards, the rain was precipitated in tremendous cataracts rather than in drops. In another moment the tornado, in all its wrath, was upon us. The strongest buildings shook as if tossed with an earthquake; the air was black with whirling eddies of house walls, roofs, chimnies, huge timbers torn from distant ruins, all shot through the air as if thrown from a mighty catapult. The atomosphere soon became lighter, and then such an awful scene of ruin as perhaps never before met the eye of man, became manifest. The greater part of the ruin was effected in the short space of from three to five minutes, altho' the heavy sweeping tornado lasted nearly half an hour. For about five minutes it was more like the explosive force of gunpowder than any thing else it could have been compared to. Hundreds of rooms were burst open as sudden as if barrels of gunpowder had been ignited in each.
Af far as glass or the naked eye can reach, the first traces of the tornado are to be seen from the Natchez bluff down the river about ten miles, bearing considerably west of south. Sweeping across the Natchez Island it crossed the point below the plantation of DAVID BARLAND, Esq., opposite the plantations of P. M. LAPICE, Esq., in the Parish of Concordia. It then struck the Natchez bluff about a mile and a half below the city, near the mansion called the 'Briars,' which it but slightly injured, but swept the mansion late of CHARLES B. GREENE, Esq. called the 'Bellevue,' and the ancient forest in which it was embosomed into a mass of ruins.
It then struck the city through its whole width of one mile and included the entire river and the village of Vidalia on the Louisiana shore -- making the path of the tornado more than two miles in width. At the Natchez landing on the river, the ruin of dwellings, stores, steamboats, and flat boats, was almost entire from the Vidalia ferry to the Mississippi Cotton Press. A few torn fragments of dwellings still remain, but they can scarcely be called shelters.
In the upper city, or Natchez on the hill, scarcely a house escaped damage or utter ruin. The Presbyterian and Methodist churches have their towers thrown down, their roofs broken and walls shattered. The Episcopal church is much injured in its roof. PARKER'S great Southern Exchange is level with the dust.
Great damage has been done to the City Hotel and the Mansion House, both being unroofed, and the upper stories broken in. The house of Sheriff IZOD has not a timber standing, and hundreds of other dwellings and nearly in the same situation.
The Court-House at Vidalia, parish of Concordia, is utterly torn down, also the dwelling house of DR. M'WHORTHER, and of MESSRS. DUNLAP and STACEY, Esqrs. The parish jail is partly torn down.
But now the worst remains to be told. Parish Judge KEETON of Concordia was instantly killed while at dinner at the house of MR. STACEY. He was a noble and esteemed man. No other person was killed in Vidalia, although some other persons were hurt. At the Natchez landing, out of fifty or sixty flat boats only six are now afloat. Those best acquainted suppose as many as one hundred flat boat men were drowned in the river, which swelled instantly to the height of six or eight feet.
The steamboats Hinds, Prairie, and the St. Lawrence, were destroyed and sunk at the Landing, and the Vidalia ferry boat on the river -- more or less persons being lost in the two first named boats.