Living in Southeast Missouri, we're used to the occasional summer storms that terrorize our nights and damage our buildings.
But an electrical storm in July 1971 is memorable for two things: Strong winds unroofed the historic covered bridge at Bollinger Mill in Burfordville and lightning struck the main hangar at Cape Girardeau Regional (then Municipal) Airport, causing a fire that burned the World War II-vintage building to the ground. Coincidentally, a blaze on the same date in 1966, also caused by a lightning strike, destroyed a similar hangar at the airport.
Here's the Missourian's main story from Thursday, July 15, 1971. Next week's blog will have sidebars about the covered bridge and the hangar, as well as the story of the damages suffered by farmers in the Tilsit area.
Gary Seesing, son of John T. Seesing, co-owner of Cape Central Airways, gazes at the heap of debris left by the early-morning fire which destroyed the Municipal Airport's main hangar after it was struck by a bolt of lightning. (Southeast Missourian archive)
STORM CARVES PATH OF DESTRUCTION
A raging electrical storm, accompanied in many places by high and probably tornadic winds, bombarded Southeast Missouri for hours early today, causing damage in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Three members of a family were killed in a tornado which struck Desloge in the Missouri Lead Belt, while at Anniston, Missouri, five persons were reported injured.
Cape Girardeau's night was punctuated by a continuing, powerful display of lightning and the following peals of thunder cascaded down in the rolling effect of an artillery barrage.
Lightning struck the No. 1 hangar at Municipal Airport about 4:30 a.m. and before firemen could arrive the World War II metal structure had collapsed on planes and equipment with a loss estimated at $500,000.
The old Burfordville covered bridge, a historic landmark and a scenic part of Burfordville Mill State Park, was damaged by wind. The covering was blown off and the structure was twisted by the storm.
The storm raged through Cape County, doing damage at a variety of places, moving from northeast to southwest on into Scott and Mississippi counties with varying amounts of damage. There was rainfall in the west, but in Stoddard County there were no reports of actual storm damage.
Difficulties were increased for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., where supervisory personnel were already manning the switchboard and business office because of a strike by Western Electric employees.
Other telephone workers belonging to companion union locals of Communication Workers of America have refused to cross the picket lines.
Kenneth E. Hartung, manager of the Cape Girardeau office said telephone calls needing operator assistance were heavy until about 9:30 Wednesday night before tapering off.
But then the storm hit. Trouble developed in the lines at Bonne Terre and Desloge. Some of the supervisory staff started work on the lines there. By 9 a.m. today, reports of trouble throughout Southeast Missouri were coming into the district office here, he said.
"Lines all over the district are down and some people in Cape Girardeau are reporting their telephones are out of service this morning," Mr. Hartung said. Calls came from Jackson, Marble Hill, Charleston, Chaffee and other places.
"We are working hard, trying to keep up. Some answers to those dialing the operator may be slow, but we seem to be getting the calls through all right with the cooperation of our customers.," Mr. Hartung said.
Supervisory personnel will be out in various areas today attempting to put the telephone lines back in service, he added.
In the immediate Cape Girardeau area mild thunderstorms started at 8 Wednesday night, turning to heavy thunder and lightning from shortly after midnight to 7 a.m. today.
For almost 11 hours there was continuous rainfall varying from moderate to heavy showers. The Federal Aviation Agency flight service station reported .03-inch of moisture fell there before midnight with 3.46 inches rain from midnight to 7 this morning.
At Missouri Utilities power plant, 800 N. Main St., 3.5 inches of rain were recorded from midnight to 7. A resident on Dorothy Street said their gauge showed 4.10 inches of rain throughout the night.
Strongest winds at the Cape Girardeau airport were registered at 12:30 a.m. when they came in from the northwest at 15 miles per hour, gusting to 40 miles, the flight service station said.
High temperature Wednesday was 89 degrees with the low this morning 68 degrees.
Paul Rice, distribution manager for Missouri Utilities Co., said the storm caused relatively minor difficulty with electric power failures in the immediate Cape Girardeau area. Major trouble points were to the south of this city.
Inside the city limits, Mr. Rice said, individual lines were down in scattered locations and customers were without power for various periods of time.
Four utility poles went down in the Dutchtown community and a number of poles were broken off, carrying power lines to the ground, at Chaffee.
Mr. Rice said there were probably 20 or more poles broken or blown over at Charleston. He said work crews were called out at midnight and will be working throughout the day repairing lines and replacing poles.
Supt. L.R. McDowell of the City Public Works Department, said he called work crews out at 2:30 a.m. today when problems developed at the usual trouble spots during heavy rains.
Mr. McDowell said all the department's work resulted from high water as trees and buildings withstood the winds hitting inside the city.
The Independence-Kingshighway intersection was under water for a time as other spots along Independence gave motorists trouble. Water also accumulated in spots on Broadway and other streets.
One of the major trouble spots was the Sherwood-Briarwood area where surface water entered a broken sanitary sewer line, backing up in a number of residents' basements.
A resident in the 2200 block of Sherwood said it is his understanding the sanitary sewer line was broken when the utilities company was placing a water line to a new subdivision off Perryville Road.
He said the broken line was wrapped with tar paper, but had not yet been repaired. Some basements in the 2100 and 2200 blocks of Sherwood had inches of water with damage varying. Part of the residents reported they have carpeting on the basement floors and it is probably ruined by the water.
Reports were that houses on this section of Briarwood were having the same difficulty. Employees of the City Public Works Department were working at the site this morning.
A mobile home at the Montgomery Mobile Home Sales between Chaffee and Dutchtown was overturned and others were slightly damaged. (Southeast Missourian archive)
Chaffee hard hit
Mobile homes and utilities operations seemed to be the hardest hit by heavy winds in the Chaffee-Blomeyer area. Trees and limbs were blown down in most places, many falling onto cars and homes, while at least two store windows were broken by "sucking winds."
City Patrolman Kenneth Henning described the winds as "straight winds moving from north to south at a high rate of speed." He said trees and other objects blown down during the storm were bent toward the south.
Another patrolman said nothing was twisted that much and there were no sightings of tornadoes. He added if one had passed over the area, there were no reports or evidence of it touching down at Chaffee.
Meanwhile this morning, most of Chaffee was without electricity or lights as power lines coming into the city were down. The northern half of the city and the downtown area were completely without power, while the southwestern section of the city was affected for only two hours.
Missouri Utilities workers in the area this morning reported poles knocked down and power lines snapped in areas along Highway 74 near Blomeyer and outside Chaffee. One crew reported they had worked on six power line poles in less than a mile this morning that had been blown down.
At Montgomery Mobile Home Sales in Blomeyer, owned by Morris Montgomery, two house trailers had been blown over on their sides, one lying in a ditch in a foot of water deposited by the heavy rains accompanying the wind. Other damages there were extensive.
Hardest hit in Chaffee was a mobile home belonging to Terry Hope, 436 Wright, where the roof and awnings were damaged. Mr. Hope said he had been awakened by the storm sometime after midnight. He had gone to a window at the front of the trailer and was looking out when suddenly the window awning "just took off over the top of the trailer." A few seconds later the trailer's roof pulled back and the concrete in which the awnings had been cemented came up. He said damage was done by heavy wind out of the north.
Ptlm. Henning said a "sucking wind" occurring between 1 and 2 this morning was responsible for windows blowing out at two Chaffee businesses.
Damage was minimized at Tee's Prescription Shop where the owners, Mr. and Mrs. H.C. Teegarden, were preparing to move most of their merchandise in today. A new plate glass window was blown out, leaving shattered glass both inside and outside the store. Carpeting in the front part of the store was rain-soaked.
Two large plate glass windows were also blown out at Montgomery Motors, located on Highway 77. Three new cars were also extensively damaged.
The roof of the Willow Grove Skating Rink was blown in, and there was damage from rain and hail, neighbors reported this morning.
Crop damage has not yet been assessed. But 3 1/2 inches of rain that fell in the Chaffee area and a hail storm flattened corn and other crops, totally destroying many fields.
Trees and tree limbs blown down were evident throughout the area. Many fell on cars and homes, however, most did only minor damage.
At Blomeyer, a tree split open at the home of Fred Loucks, half falling on an auto parked in the yard and the other half falling onto the house. At his neighbor's home the storm demolished a garage and strewed materials stored there over the yard. The garage was owned by Audrey Bentley.
Early this morning many of the residents had already begun the job of cleaning up.
An Anniston trailer court hit by the early morning storm lay in ruins today. Five persons suffered minor injuries as 15 of 18 trailers at the Airline Trailer Court, two miles north of East Prairie on Highway 105, were demolished by heavy winds. The injured were taken to a Sikeston hospital.
At least 10 families left homeless by the disaster were being taken care of this morning by Red Cross workers. They have been temporarily lodged in a Charleston motel.
Three of the trailers were destroyed by fire, the owner reported. East Prairie firemen and other units were called to the scene sometime after 1 this morning.
At Benton a tree was blown down beside Highway 61 and across the top of LeGrand's Liquor Store. Another fell between Burns' Cafe and Dr. Michael Brogan's office.
Just south of Benton the tops of trees were twisted as though a tornado had just touched them. Hail damage was heavy throughout the area and broke windows in several homes.
The wind was so strong it flattened the corn and stripped its leaves and early ears. The damage started just south of Kelso. Watermelon fields were stripped of foliage and the watermelons were left exposed.
Eldon Cowell, whose home was one of those damaged south of Benton, said the melons could not be seen Wednesday afternoon. This morning after the storm passed the vines were flattened by the hail and wind and all the watermelons dotted the field.
Telephone poles south of Benton were bent over by the force of the wind. Electricity was cut off throughout the night.
Southern Illinois was largely unaffected by the storm, although there was considerable lightning and up to 3 1/2 inches of rain in some places.
Tom Reeves, manager of the Rural Electric Co-op, which serves much of the extreme southern five-county area, reported "No trouble," and said, "We're certainly happy about that. We had a lot of rain, and some lightning, but the wind didn't seem to be too bad, or at least not damaging."
Alexander County Sheriff Don Turner reported much the same, "a lot of rain and lightning, but no damage reported yet."
"We had a terrific rain at McClure," said Frank Marchildon, who operates a grocery store. "Plenty of thunder, rain and lightning, but no damage that we've heard about.
Both citizens' band radio clubs in Cape Girardeau were on duty throughout the night, some manning radio equipment, others as spotters with use of walkie-talkies.
Robert L. Miller, in charge of the sky warn net for the City of Roses club, said members received the first alert at 7:45 Wednesday night. This watch continued until midnight when an "all clear" was received from the U.S. Weather Service Station at Cairo, Illinois.
At 12:45, the wind changed and a tornado watch was again called, the alert continuing until 3:30 a.m., he said.
The second alert was also for severe thunderstorms, although the weather station reported a Cape Girardean had notified it of spotting a tornado north of Cape Girardeau.
Mrs. B.R. Stein said members of the Radio Alert emergency club, to which she belongs, spotted a funnel cloud north of Cape Girardeau while at a lookout point in the 1500 block of North Main. She said this was about 11 Wednesday night. The cloud moved from the northwest toward the northeast, she added. Mrs. Stein said the club reported the cloud to the Cairo weather station.
More photographs are in a gallery here.