The Flint tornado was the last in U.S. history to cause the deaths of more than one hundred persons. Better advance preparations and better forecasting have greatly reduced the death tolls since 1953.
June 8, 2003, marked the fiftieth anniversary of Michigan’s worst natural disaster, in terms of deaths and injuries, the Flint tornado. This was the last tornado to kill over one hundred people in a single strike anywhere in the United States. It was responsible for the deaths of 116 people and injuries to 844. It was one of eight tornadoes that struck the eastern portion of Michigan in 1953.
The other seven resulted in an additional nine deaths, fifty-two injured people, and extensive damage. Flint touched down near the intersection of West Coldwater and North Linden roads, just north of Flint about 8:30 P.M. on the evening of June 8. It left behind it a one half mile wide track of destruction.
Severe storms developed over southeast Lower Michigan in the afternoon when a moisture-laden warm front moving from the Ohio Valley collided with a strong cold front moving east across Wisconsin. The Flint-Beecher tornado touched down at about 8:30 P.M. (CDT) two miles north of Flushing, Michigan, and tracked eastward across Genesee and Lapeer counties to about two miles east of Lapeer, Michigan, clipping northern portions of Flint. The tornado destroyed approximately 340 homes and damaged 260.
An additional fifty farmhouses and businesses were destroyed and sixteen damaged. The total replacement value of the resultant damage amounted to $19 million. Most people living in the area were at home. By the time they heard the storm’s roar their houses were being torn apart. This slow- moving F5 tornado, with circulating wind speeds in excess of two hundred mph, was ranked the ninth deadliest tornado in U.S. history. At its greatest intensity, the tornado path was more than a half-mile wide as it swept through a four-mile stretch of the community, causing 114 of the total number of deaths.
So many had been killed by the storm that the National Guard Armory building and other shelters were turned into temporary morgues. The scene of bodies coming in to these buildings was incredibly bleak and horrifying for the families and friends of the victims who waited outside until they were able to go in to identify the dead. Captain James Berardo of the state police warned people that the tornado had horribly battered some victims so they would present a gruesome sight.
Out of the 116 who were killed, fifty-five were under twenty and out of those fifty-five, five were less than a year old and thirty-two were under ten. Many families had suffered multiple deaths. There were many heroes on that night and in the days, weeks, and months that followed. First aid, food, and clothing were quickly made available to the tornado victims.
The State Troopers and National Guard worked feverishly after the tornado. Within twelve hours, all 684 of the available National Guard personnel were mobilized and on duty at the disaster scene. This was the second time they had been mobilized since World War II.
The Red Cross went into action immediately after the tornado. In addition to the local needs they had to deal with 12,000 messages from worried relatives across the country. Flint supported a “Red Feather” campaign to gather relief and rebuilding funds. With the help of both this community money and assistance from the Red Cross the community was able to make a strong start of rebuilding. Many volunteers helped in the construction work.