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Vicksburg, MS Tornado, Dec 1953


Some Sources List 12 Dead.

Theater Filled With Boys And Girls Is Demolished In Vicksburg.

VICKSBURG, Miss., Dec. 5 (AP) – Death-dealing tornadoes twisted in hammer-like bounces through Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas tonight, leaving death and destruction behind.

The dead in the wake of the multiple twister numbered at least six and the injured exceeds 100. Some reports placed deaths at 12, including 10 at Vicksburg.

The worst of three reported twisters smashed downtown Vicksburg, demolishing a theater full of boys and girls enjoying a Saturday night movie. At least six persons were killed along its narrow path.
Another tornado struck at Montrose, Ark., and first reports said two children were missing.

A third tornado blasted the communities of Ouachita City, Rocky Branch and Spencer near Monroe in Northern Louisiana, mounting an injury toll of 11 persons. No deaths were reported.

A violent windstorm struck a farming section 10 miles west of Clarksdale, Miss., injuring seven persons.

Storm Comes Silently.
The Vicksburg blow came out of an eerie early nightfall, silently and viciously, so that residents of Vicksburg only short distances from its path did not realize what was happening.

From downtown Vicksburg, the twisting funnel roared up in a mighty hop and struck again, with less, force, in a residential district.

It snapped all electrical power, blanketing the city with darkness, which was relieved only by the flickering flames of a dozen fires started by the storm.

Inside the Saenger Theater, the bulk of the storm's injured screamed and sobbed for help, for their parents. Most of the injured were reported to be boy and girl patrons engaged in watching their customary Saturday night movie.

Nursery Demolished.
Another theater was reported blown down.

The whirling wind blew down homes, business buildings and toppled buildings onto automobile tops.
It demolished a day nursery, killing two babies.

In its wake, Gov. Hugh White send National Guard units into the stricken city to guard against looting. Nearly every store window in downtown Vicksburg was blown in.

The Red Cross rushed a 10-person disaster team into the area with 150 units of blood serum for use in shock.

Aid Rushed In.
Ambulances from throughout the area sirened(?) their way toward Vicksburg, where hospital facilities were strained beyond capacities. The injured lay on floors of corridors. Doctors and nurses labored among the worst hurt in dining rooms.

Communications were snarled beyond much help in the worst of the downtown storm area. Some lines still stood in residential fringes along the storm's path.

The Anniston Star Alabama 1953-12-06

Continued on page 2


Vicksburg, MS -1953 Tornado

1953 Tornado, devastates Vicksburg, MS
(a personal account)

I was born in Vicksburg, MS. My family moved from the south when I was 8 1/2-9yrs old. At the time of the 1953 tornado that hit Vicksburg, I was 7years old. I have 'vivid' memories of that tornado, before, during and after,.. even memories of a city of rubble and a visit to a sad-eyed 'Santa' in downtown Vicksburg.

My mother, was divorced, and raising three young daughters alone. Our ages 7,9,11. Mother worked downtown in a clothing store. On her way home that day, she stopped at a market several blocks from where we lived. Her grocery items were on the counter for check- out, when the owner, told her that he had some 'fresh' cuts of meat she should look at,.. she started toward the back of the store to the 'meat' counter. She recounted that an 'overwhelming' feeling came over her of foreboding and it stopped her in her tracks. (She told us this when she got home that day..'before the storm hit'.) She turned with a sense of urgency, and declined the owner's invitation. He tried to convince her otherwise,.. but she was persistent,.. and paid for what she already had on the counter. The owner, who knew her to be a courteous, polite customer.. could barely put her change in her hands, or her purchase into a bag as she said to him, "I have to get home". Then she practically ran out of the store. She said the wind was literally pushing her forward as she 'walked'-'ran' homeward.
We, the children were playing outside with neighboring children, when we saw mother fast approaching,.. I remember the look on her face as she rushed us into the house, and shouting to the other children to run home! We, as children, thought somehow we were the source of her agitation. One of our playmates, 'Betty',. wanted to come in and and continue playtime,.. but mother said firmly ',.. go home, now'.. a bad storm is coming!
She began moving about our small dwelling quickly moving, removing things.. we kids were more focused on what was in the bag from the store! I recall that my oldest sister had pulled out a jar of peanut butter to put in the cupboard, when we heard the sound of an incredible rumbling ROAR, as of multiple trains or jet planes approaching and descending upon us. Mother quickly herded us to a bed, and pulled a matterss over us and her,.. and began reciting the 23rd Psalm of the Bible. Through the grinding, shaking, shuddering, breaking glass, thundering roar now on top of us,.. I heard her voice never faltering.. growing stronger and louder with her recitation over and over. We heard huge old trees being uprooted, violent sounds new to our young ears. Metal slamming. And then, everything just stopped, followed by the eerie strangeness of SILENCE! We ventured out, onto our porch,.. the sky was blood red in the unnatural darkness, things around us toppled, turned, uprooted, but all houses around us still standing. We lived atop a 'hill',. and could look toward the direction of downtown,.. we began to realize that part of the 'redness', were fires burning throughout the city. We listened and heard the sounds of the storm as it retreated, becoming fainter and fainter, then gone. Fire hydrants were pouring forth their contents, and causing muddying in some areas.

A little girl that I had waved 'bye' to at the end of the preceding school day, 'Friday, Dec 4th', was the only member of her family killed on Saturday Dec 5th. I recall that the story was this; that the brick fireplace in their home exploded, with bricks taking deadly aim at her small, beautiful 7year old body. A few days after the storm, I was taken to a local mortuary to view my friend, lying in a small coffin, dressed in a lovely blue chiffon dress, wearing white socks with ankle lace,.. so small, so still. This was my first introduction to death. I recall trying to grasp 'Heaven', where she now played with angels. But how could she be playing,.. she was so still... My 7year old mind deduced that she must be trapped inside that stillness. I wanted her to move,.. as she had only a few days before.. when she played with me, not angels.. when she bade me 'bye' for the weekend..when she wasn't 'still'.

Auntie's house: After the storm we hurried through the blackness of unlit night, down our hill,..along the level road that asended up another hill, turned left three houses, auntie's. Inside, the Christmas tree... outside, screaming sirens,.. eerie glow from fires. Auntie, had been in the 'Piggly Wiggly' market, when the storm hit. Shocked shoppers, plate glass shimming, shaking to a rhythm unwanted.

We visited the store the next day, after the storm. The store stood no more; the floor, counter, and a man's shoe, was all that remained. I believe that the owner survived,. but,.. would my mother have survived had she not obeyed the force that stopped her midway to that meat counter?

Santa: Mother's brave attempt to bring Christmas to her traumatized children's spirits. She took us downtown,.. or what was left of downtown, to a dept store, standing, but 'injured'. Santa's lap,.. Santa was wearing shiny pretend black boot things that only partially covered his 'brown' shoes,.. Santa's dark hair peeked from under a shabbily worn white wig. The string for the false beard showed over his ears, under his dark sideburns. Santa's eyes, watered, sad, listless, as he half-heartedly inquired, "and what would you like for Christmas"? Santa, had no jolly belly,.. Santa was lean and sinewy. Santa, was white, I was not. I wanted to comfort Santa, he was sad, I was sad, I was confused as to why God needed my friend to play in Heaven while I needed her to play with me, on our playground at our school, not wearing blue chiffon and white lace socks, not laying so still, so silent.

My mother is now 93years old, I will ask her for the name that escapes my memory, but not hers. She remembers the family, she remembers the girl-child, I will post that child's name when I have it. I remember rubble of mortar, brick, wood, and 'property' damage, but the true damage occured to people, those known, and those unknown. Someone, somewhere, has a fading memory of each of the dead from 1953. Black or White, none are forgotten,.. because they live in someone’s cherished memory.

thank you

thank you very very much for sharing your memories with me and everyone who visits this site


I was born in Vicksburg in 1949.I also remember that day very well I was 4 andmy sister was 6. My father worked at a drycleaners that had a shoe repair shop in it he was the shoe repairman. My mother was home with me and my sister when the tornado hit she lit a candle and held us inher lap at the kitchen table. We lived outside town close to Culcan Academy

Relatives 1953 in tornado, uncle was owner of cleaner

Dear Anonymous, I believe that my great uncle was the owner of the dry cleaners and his grand daughter (my second cousin) parished in the storm trying to rescue her doll. Currently we are trying to create a family tree/history for our Grand Family Reunion next year.
If the owner first name begin with A. please contact me.

I had a Great Grandfather

I had a Great Grandfather (Grady Lowery) die in the tornado, from what I understand he was on the river fishing when it hit.

My daddy and uncle helped

My daddy and uncle helped look for people at Palarmo's Dept Store.

Vicksburg Ms 1953 Tornado

My mother Ruby Nell (Downs) and my Father, Bob Dungan and I, with my infant brother Ricky, were visiting at the home of Charlie (Jaybird) and Margaret Powell and their daughters Lydia and MaryLee. At that time, they lived in the back of Powell's Pawn Shop when it was located on the East Side of Washington Street Downtown next door to Marion Finkie's shop and over Ragsdale's Department Store. I remember my Mother being frightened and upset, and my Daddy and Jaybird trying to calm everybody down, and then my Mother commented that "it sounds like a freight train outside". Then the lights went out, and for a little while nobody said anything. After the Tornado passed, we went out onto Washington Street and walked down as far as the Strand Theater. Christmas decorations were all over the street, there was debris and broken glass everywhere, and that is the first Christmas I remember. I remember that my Father, Bob Dungan, was always able to make people feel safe, even in very frightening situations. He was the best man I ever knew. He and Charlie Powell remained lifelong friends.

my grandfather

i lost my grandfather in 1953 when the twister hit vicksburg mississippi his name was grady elmer lowery... alot people lost loves one and kids got killed so sad:(

Vivid Memories of Tornado

My family and I were on Washington street parked outside of the Kress store. We were waiting for my brother and I was in the backseat. The wind started blowing and the sky darkened. My brother had a part time job in Palamo Clothing Store, had just gotten off. He was running to the car and had just got in when the full force hit us. I remember looking up and seeing a dark cloud coming down the street. I did not know what it was. I remember my father pushing my brother and I to the floor and then pushing my mother down in the front seat. Bricks, signs, mortar, everything was falling around us. A large concrete clump hit the front window on the passenger side of the car and landed up in the back seat. It would have killed my mother if she had been sitting up in the seat. Bricks and mortar were strewn on the inside. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Our car was totality destroyed.

When we could finally look up, I saw a street that was devastated. The car in front of us was smashed to the ground and covered with debris. The man inside was crushed. Most of the cars on and parked along Washington street were in bad shape. A woman ran out of the Kress store, fell to her knees and yelled "Lord please take care of my children." All of a sudden people were everywhere some in a panic, some trying to help others but most just trying to get to safety. My dad forced open the doors of the car and we got out. My mother decided to go to the Vicksburg Hospital where she was a nurse. We all walked to the hospital stepping over debris and around cars, etc. There were no lights and we did not have a flashlight. My most shocking memory was seeing people looting from the jewelery store and other stores where the windows were broken. Their were some people I recognized as they used lighters to select their booty. They were considered good citizens. All the stores were dark. We walked past Palamo's and it was sunk in on itself. We turned left and the Valley store and up the hill. My cousin Larry Nosser's restaurant was dark but did not look hurt.

I do not know how long it took us to reach the hospital but I can say it was too long.At the hospital, the halls were lighted by candle light. Beds were placed along side the wall in the corridors and each had a candle. It seemed that all of the nurses I knew were already there and working with the doctors and the patients. My mother was Dr. Knox's nurse and he was there. I was parked with Mildred at the switchboard but my brother went elsewhere. My dad left for the fleet to begin to organize the electricians to help with generators and other electrical equipment. I do not remember the hospital being in a panic. Everyone seemed to be going about their tasks quietly and efficiently. I do remember hearing the cries and groans of the injured and walking around to see if I recognized anyone. News came of the Sanger theater and many people started crying.

My Dad returned at some point and took my brother and I to Nosser's grill for sandwiches. I remember the were cheese and ham. Larry said they were making food for the injured and the workers. He gave us some for the nurses. We then went back to the hospital. It seemed more crowded than before. We were given a place to lie down and told to go to sleep. I was tired and scared and was ready to go down.

The next thing I remember was that we were home with no gas, water or electricity. My Mom and Dad used a grill to cook for us. Hattie came to care for us boys and my parents went back to work. I remember it being a gray cloudy day lacking any joy or happiness. News trickled in from neighbors, friends and my parents. No one went to church. I just waited for news of when I would go to school if it still was standing.

The electricity came back on which was great for lights. In our house and in most of our neighbors gas was used to cook and heat. Dad came home with an electric skillet and coffee pot so we were able to cook inside. As I remember, it was a week before school opened. The church was moved to the St. Francis auditorium. It would be another week before my parents took us to see the damage.

Tornado of '53

How interesting to find this site. I don't really know what prompted me to look for it tonight.

I was four years old when the tornado hit. My mother was trying to get downstairs with me in the house we lived in on Cherry Street. My father (who was a civil engineer with the Illinois Central Railroad) was trying to get home to us but he actually got lost trying to find our house. We didn't have a car in those days and so he was on foot. He wore thick glasses and was practically blinded by the storm. There were balls of electricity rolling out in the streets due to the downed lines.

I remember the weird color of the sky and the horrible noise and our house being lifted slightly off its stilts. (We were put right back down - so peculiar.)

An older friend of mine was injured in the theater that collapsed.

I remember gathering with neighbors and all the grown-ups being so upset.

It is all still very vivid after all these years. I will never forget it.

article | by Dr. Radut