Poplar Bluff was forever changed on May 9, 1927. A tornado hit the City at 3:13 p.m. and brought destruction, killing 86 persons and destroying much of the city from Park Avenue to across the river on the East Side. Many stories of those who survived and the sadness of those who left this town to never return are a part of our memories.
My parents were respectful of storms and always remained calm in the face of a storm. There was a time, Daddy got us out of bed at 2 a.m. and gathered us for safety. The terrible winds and lightning stopped soon after. It was the next morning that we saw the damage. Across the farm were trees laid down in a path. One tree landed crushing the side of Daddy’s fishing boat. The path was approximately 100 feet from our house in a northeasterly direction. This could have been straight-line winds or maybe an F1 tornado. This left memories.
As a wife and mother, I experienced another storm. I stayed up late to read. Winds began to howl and lightning seemed constant. I heard a roar and ran upstairs to get my school-age children and husband. I told my husband to get dressed and help me bring the children down to the basement. I couldn’t rouse them and none were small enough to carry. No matter what I said, no one was moving. Fortunately, no ill came of this. I told my husband there had been a tornado. He said no. It turned out I was right. The morning showed railroad cars overturned less than one-half mile from our house. These memories tell me to be cautious when weather is ominous and storm warnings sound.
Kati Wylie Ray shares memories with us on her book, “Poplar Bluff Tornado: May 9, 1927.” She pays tribute to those who cleaned up after the storm, survived the destruction, and those who lost their lives. Over the past two years, Ms. Ray has written her book. She spent hours seeking tornado accounts, interviewing eyewitnesses, and recording family memories passed down by survivors. She focuses on those who left us that day or later succumbed to injury. She poured over newspaper articles, looked at obituaries, and carefully researched accounts of the tornado. She states, “Shon Griffin (library staff member) and I were talking about Poplar Bluff history. He said that we need a memorial for those people who died that day, His comment started me on a two-year journey to learn more about those people and their stories.”
Unlike my stories, Poplar Bluff could not have been hit by a tornado at a worse time, 3:13 p.m., during the town’s busiest business and school time. This community was in shock. Recovery and clean up were slow. Heavy equipment to remove debris was not available and no FEMA was there to assist with recovery. Pictures show stunned people surrounded by destruction. One photo dated June 9, 1927 shows a demolished building as it might have been the very day of the tornado. (See it online at https://www.poplarbluff.org/tornado ). It is hard to imagine the disruption, loss of life, property, and needs of this community. Kati tells why the book is important, “Poplar Bluff suffered a terrible tornado on May 9, 1927, 86 people were killed on that fateful day. In many ways, Poplar Bluff never recovered from that terrible event. The book and presentation are some of the stories about the people who died.”
On Thursday, May 9, Kati will present her experiences writing this book. She will tell us about May 9, 1927, and more importantly, she will pay tribute to those who were there. She will present at the library at 3 p.m. The public is welcome. Anyone who experiences and survives a severe storm never forgets.
Following Ms. Ray’s presentation, Craig Meador and the Severe Weather Response Team will present. They will tell us what we do, how we survive, and when we need to be cautious. Their presentation begins at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
On Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., the library shows the film “Twister” in the Library Theater.
The “Tornado, May 9, 1927” exhibit runs in the library May 1-31.
<i>Sue Crites Szostak is the director of the Poplar Bluff Municipal Library. Contact her at email@example.com .</i>