Tornadoes are a common storm in some parts of the United States. The most common area for them is called Tornado Alley. Usually, when storms go through, you might hear of tornado watches. That doesn’t mean that there are multiple tornadoes in an area, but it could. In 1936, beginning on April 5th and extending through April 6th, the states of Mississippi and Georgia found themselves in the middle of a tornado outbreak, which is several tornadoes in an area, of course. This is the only continuous tornado outbreak in United States history to produce more than one tornado with triple digit death tolls. Also, severe flash floods from the associated storms caused millions of dollars in damage across the region.
The storm, called the Tupelo-Gainesville Outbreak, produced at least 12 tornadoes. The outbreak took place over two days, April 5th and 6th, but was really just about 12 hours in duration. The storm hit Tupelo, Mississippi at 8:30pm on April 5, 1936. It was the fourth-deadliest tornado in United States history. The storm came out of a group of storm cells, and first touched down in a rural area about eight miles from the city. The twister killed a family of 13, sweeping their house away as the tornado made its way toward Tupelo. Many more were injured before it even reached the city. The tornado was retroactively rated an F5 on the Fujita scale, it caused total destruction along its path through the Willis Heights neighborhood. In that area were a number of well-built large mansions that were blown away like a house of cards.
The tornado missed the business district, and instead hit residential areas, sadly…increasing the death toll. The Gum Pond area of Tupelo was the worst hit. Homes along the pond were swept into the water with their victims. The majority of the bodies were found in Gum Pond, the area which is now Gumtree Park, but many bodies were never recovered from the pond at all. The winds were so strong, that pine needles were embedded into trunks of trees. The tornado took out the large concrete Battle of Tupelo monument as it exited the city’s east side. According to records, the Tupelo tornado leveled 48 city blocks and between 200 and 900 homes. It officially killed at least 216 people and injured at least 700. The tornado destroyed the water tower and produced numerous fires in its wake. Thankfully, overnight rains, which left knee-deep water in some streets put out the fires. Though 216 remained the final death toll, 100 persons were still hospitalized at the time it was set. Subsequently, the Mississippi State Geologist estimated a final, unofficial death toll of 233. Surprisingly, one-year-old Elvis Presley and his parents were among the survivors, a fact I never knew about him.
After ravaging Tupelo, the storm system moved through Alabama overnight and reached Gainesville, Georgia, at around 8:30am. When the storm hit Gainesville, it became a double tornado event. One tornado moved in from the Atlanta highway, while the other moved in from the Dawsonville highway. As they came into town, the two tornadoes then merged into one on Grove Street and destroyed everything throughout the downtown area…leaving 10 foot high piles of debris in some places. The worst tornado-caused death toll in a single building in United States history was at the Cooper Pants Factory. The multiple-story building was then filled with young workers, who had just arrived to work. The structure collapsed and caught fire, killing about 70 people. At the Pacolet Mill, 550 workers moved to the northeast side of the building and survived. Many people sought refuge in Newman’s department store, and its collapse killed 20 people. In addition to the complete destruction that occurred throughout downtown Gainesville, residential areas throughout the city were devastated as well, where 750 homes were destroyed, and 254 others were badly damaged.
The Tupelo-Gainesville Outbreak took the lives of 454 people, 419 by the two main two tornadoes alone. This outbreak is the second deadliest ever recorded in United States history. Although the outbreak was centered on Tupelo, Mississippi, and Gainesville, Georgia, where the fourth and fifth deadliest tornadoes in United States history respectively occurred, other destructive tornadoes associated with the outbreak hit Columbia, Tennessee; Anderson, South Carolina; and Acworth, Georgia.
Anytime an industrial accident happens, an investigation follows. With each investigation, come answers to what happened, and eventually better safety regulations to prevent future accidents from occurring. On February 7, 2008, the Imperial Sugar Plant in Wentworth, Georgia exploded, killing 14 people and injuring 47 more. The explosion was a mystery, for a while. An attack didn’t make sense. the plant wasn’t a typical terrorist target.
Eventually, the investigators traced the root of the explosion to sugar dust. How could that be, you might ask, but dust is explosive…and not just sugar dust. The answer is, “Yes, dust is explosive.” Dust explosions can happen when a build up of dust particles is ignited by something as simple as static electricity or tool sparks. The Imperial Sugar Plant was built in 1916 and still operated with out of date construction materials and methods. It also suffered from poor housekeeping practices, which is what lead to the explosion of 2008. It could have probably been avoided if the work spaces had been kept clean. I don’t eat much sugar these days, and when I read about things like a dirty work space in a sugar plant, I think that maybe that is not a bad thing.
According to the report, the machinery used to process the sugar was not well maintained, and would spill sugar onto the floor and surrounding areas. the amount of sugar often built up to knee deep. Workers would use compressed air to clean the floors of loose sugar dust, which just caused it to accumulate in high places such as rafters, beams, light fixtures and inside ventilation ducts. There were dust collectors, but these were not regularly cleaned and maintained, and were too small to handle the amount of dust created by the practice of blowing the sugar out of the way.
To complicate matters, there was a tunnel underneath the silos used to store the sugar. A steel conveyor belt was used to transport the sugar. Because of poor maintenance, the conveyor belt regularly became blocked by clumps of sugar, which would then spill sugar dust onto the floor. In 2007 the company decided to enclose this conveyor belt in steel sheets to prevent contamination, but this took away the ventilation that cleared dangerous accumulations of sugar dust from the tunnel.
The first explosion took place inside the enclosed conveyor belt. A blockage caused a buildup of sugar dust. Then an overheated bearing created an the necessary ignition spark. This first sugar dust explosion traveled throughout the building, causing numerous other explosions as the accumulated dust became airborne and ignited. The explosion was powerful enough to buckle the building’s concrete floors, sending the accumulated dust on the floor into the air, as well as knocking high area dust down.
The management at Imperial Sugar knew all about the sugar dust explosion risk, but did nothing to prevent this catastrophe from happening. Their lack of preparation, and the loss of life, caused new legislation to be created to manage combustible dust hazards, and OSHA has labelled combustible dust one of their top priorities in the upcoming years. Unfortunately, it took a catastrophe of epic proportions to get the legislation in place.
Americans are a people who have no problem speaking their minds. I suppose it all goes back to the reasons we left England in the first place. We were only allowed to believe certain things, and if we chose to be different, we could have been killed or imprisoned. It is what our nation was built on in more ways than just religion. The point was supposed to be that we were free to live our lives as we chose to, within a very few certain guidelines. For the most part, things went along smoothly…until November of 1860, when President Lincoln was elected to the presidency, that is. The people of the Deep South felt that their way of life was being threatened, in that they held slaves, and Lincoln was against slavery, as were the Northern states, or most of the people in the Northern states anyway. Of course, this whole issue brought our nation to war, a really sad thing when two sides of a nation war against each other.
It is a difficult thing when so many people have such differing beliefs about the same issue. And sometimes it gets so ugly, that I have to wonder about the sanity of some people. When people burn or otherwise deface our flag, sometimes in horribly disgusting ways, or do the same to Bibles and other religious books, it is disrespectful. What I find especially disturbing is that these same people want respect for their cause or lifestyle, but they will not give the same respect for the cause or lifestyle of others. It really is a two way street. I know that a lot of people are calling for the removal of the Confederate Flag from…everywhere, but in reality it is a part of our history. We need to remember that because they lost the battle, it does not mean they were not brave in the fight. Lately, I have seen some shocking displays in this nation. Digging up the graves of a general and his wife, because he fought for the South, and taking shows off the air because they have a reference to a Confederate Flag in them. Political Correctness has tipped the balance of this nation to the point of insanity. It must stop, or we will have another war here. We have already had a threat of states wanting to secede from the union. It is a sad state for this great nation to be in.
In the end of the Civil War, the South lost the war, the slaves were freed, and given their proper rights. No, it wasn’t the last of the battles over this issue, unfortunately, but the healing of this nation began. The eleven states that had seceded from the Union…Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Arkansas, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, were returning one by one. Change was coming and it would slowly come to be accepted. I suppose that, as in the Civil War, the people who are fighting for their rights these days, consider the battles well worth the outcome, and maybe they are, but in many ways, we have forgotten that the people of the other side of the issue have rights too. The country was largely founded on a live and let live way of life…whether you agree with them or not. This may not be the perfect way for our nation to be, but it is as close as we can get. As with the eleven states who returned to the Union, I think it is important to consider the feeling of those who have lost the battle you felt the need to win, because in most cases, they are good people too. On this historic day, as our nation became united again, Georgia became the last state to be readmitted to the Union. They returned, because whether they agreed with every thing this nation stood for or not, they still knew that this was a great nation, and one they wanted to be a part of. I believe that was the case of the Cowboys and Indians. We all know that the Indians lost to the cowboys, but that does not make them any less a proud people, nor does it make them any less brave. They deserve respect, as do all the people who have lost the battles that have gone on in this nation about political correctness, policy change, or the battle of the North and South. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Whether we agree with things or disagree, we must stand united…lest we forget that the rights we take from another today, could be taken from us tomorrow.
On a trip to Tennessee and the surrounding area in April of 2003, Bob and I had the opportunity to visit Lookout Mountain, which is located near Chattanooga, in southwestern Tennessee. The drive up was stunning, and everything we saw there from Ruby Falls, to the Incline Railway, and Rock City proved to hold amazing views as well. From the top of the mountain, you can see seven states…Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama. The view across that area is spectacular. When we travel, we love to go sight seeing, so this area fit right into our idea of a great place to visit. looking back now, I’m sure that time constraints played a part in my missing out on some of the amazing historical value of the area I was visiting, and to me, that is really a shame, because so much took place there, and I didn’t even know it.
I suppose I should have known the history of the area, but apparently I wasn’t as up on my Civil War and Indian history as I am now. I really wish I had known or had at least taken more time reading the many signs in the area, because I could have figured out what a great area we were in. During the Nickajack Expedition which occurred in the 18th century, Lookout Mountain would become a last stand for the Chickamauga Cherokee, who were followers of Chief Dragging Canoe, who opposed the peace treaty between Native Americans and the American settlers. The peace treaty was signed in 1777. Most of the Chickamauga Cherokee agreed to the treaty, but a small band followed Chief Dragging Canoe, and they went to battle in the late summer through the fall of 1794. The final battle, and the point that Chief Dragging Canoe’s warriors would lose the fight took place on Lookout Mountain. The Indians were no match for the military might of the army, and after wounding only 3 of the militia, the villages of Nickajack Town and Running Water Town were destroyed, leaving seventy Cherokee dead.
The Civil War battle that made Lookout mountain famous took place on November 24, 1863 and was a part of the Chattanooga Campaign. Major General Joseph Hooker defeated the Confederate forces who were under the command of Major General Carter Stevenson. Lookout mountain has an excellent view of the Tennessee River, making it a perfect stronghold. It also held a perfect view of the Union supply lines, so if the Confederate army wanted to starve out the Union army, they needed Lookout Mountain, and if the Union army wanted to keep their supply lines clear, they needed Lookout Mountain. One of the hardest places to fight a battle is a mountain…at least for the side who is at the bottom of the mountain. They are far too visible to fight the battle easily. So, after calling for reinforcements, Major General Joseph Hooker went into battle. It was a must win situation. If they lost the Union soldiers would be starved into surrender.
Looking back now on our visit makes everything we saw seem much more interesting. In my memory files, I can pull out the different views of our visit to Lookout Mountain, and I can visualize the exact view the Confederate soldiers had, and knowing that there was virtually no place to hide, I can’t help but wonder how the Union soldiers managed to win that battle. I suppose that it was partly the numbers of soldiers, with the Union having more than 1,000 more, but more importantly, I think it was the fact that they surrounded the Confederate soldiers, leaving them with too many sides to cover. Our trip to Lookout Mountain, Ruby Falls, and Rock City has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I wish I had known it then. I would have really enjoyed that stroll through history. The great thing is that my pictures, memories, and a little look at history can take me back to visit again.