Almost Yesterday: The 1949 Tornado

May 26, 2020

It seems like almost yesterday when a powerful tornado roared through the center of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The deadly storm smashed into the city at approximately 7 p.m.,  Saturday, May 21, 1949.

The twister came in from the southwest along Gordonville Road and moved east across Highway 61. It demolished the Airline Restaurant and Lounge, swept across to the intersection of Broadway and Clark, and moved north of Broadway.

From there, the 350 yard-wide storm moved along Dunklin Street north of the college, crossed over North Sprigg and slammed into the Red Star and Marble City Heights Subdivisions.

And then, as quickly as it came, it was gone. Behind was a scene of destruction and tragedy.

In just a few moments, the twister claimed 21 lives and injured over 100 others. More than 220 homes and businesses were completely destroyed and nearly 250 others were damaged. Most of the injured and dead lived on North Fountain, Emerald, North Middle, North Frederick and Sprigg Streets.

Local Red Cross officers recruited volunteers and called upon the St. Louis chapter for assistance. Emergency personnel moved into the devastated area to search for victims and to maintain order. Shelters were established at Central High School, the Cobb School, St. Mary's High School and the Knights of Columbus Hall. When Red Cross personnel arrived from St. Louis early the next morning, a more permanent shelter was set up at the Arena Building.

This was one of the most tragic events in the history of Cape Girardeau. For those who lived through the storm of Saturday night, March 21, 1949, it must seem like almost yesterday.