Louisville Tornado – Kentucky – March 27, 1890

A tornado of strength 4 struck Louisville, Kentucky, killing seventy-six. The tornado’s path was wider than Louisville had ever experienced. Most of the city was devastated.

A tornado of strength 4 swept through the downtown section of Louisville, Kentucky, on the evening of March 27, 1890. Its path was wider than the city had ever previously experienced and because of the violence of the damage inflicted there was some doubt about categorizing it as a strength 4 storm. In all likelihood it was the main part of series of storms that arrived almost simultaneously. It gained the name of the Louisville Cyclone. All through the day air pressure kept falling but news that the tornado was imminent did not reach the city in enough time for people to take shelter. The impact on Louisville lasted only five minutes but in that time most of the city was devastated. Seventy-six people lost their lives.

Dozens of residences, businesses, large stone warehouses, the railroad station, and several churches were among the places destroyed in these five minutes. One of the most tragic sites of the storm’s violence was the Falls City Hall, on West Market Street, where a local chapter of the Knights and Ladies of Honor were meeting when the storm hit. Located in the same building on the lower floor were fifty-five children and their mothers who were taking dancing lessons. The building collapsed, burying about two hundred people, forty-four of whom died. This was one of America’s greatest loses to a tornado in one building. The first sign of danger was the rocking of the building. Shortly after, a window was blown from its casings and plaster began to drop from the ceiling. The floors gave way and all fell to the basement level with parts of walls and debris on top of them.

The Union depot railroad station on Seventh Street completely collapsed. Some heard the large building crack. The wind struck from the south and lifted the roof from the structure, throwing it several feet away. It was estimated that some fifty people were in the station when the cyclone struck. Many were trapped and seriously injured, but fortunately no one died. A special concern was the destruction of the Waterworks stand tower, which could have resulted in cutting off the water supply to the whole city. The standpipe through which all water was forced into the reservoir was demolished; there was only enough water available to last six days. There was fear of a water famine. Special notices appeared in the newspapers for water consumers to limit their use of water to cooking and drinking.

The newspapers were full of notices for relief efforts and aid for the cyclone victims. It became a national, as well as, an international interest. Telegrams came from all over the world offering to help with whatever aid was needed. At the same time, familiar problems common to disasters worldwide surfaced; namely the activities of thieves seeking to take advantage of the disorder. The mayor and chief of police ordered the Louisville Legion to patrol the affected streets, to control the crowds and to warn looters that they would be shot on site, not arrested. The path that the tornado had taken from the south, at times on the Indiana side of the Ohio River where it caused three deaths and $150,000 worth of damage, at other times and finally on the southwest part of Louisville, was almost identical to the route taken by another tornado that hit the city in 1852.

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