Monday, May 07, 2007

May 7

A horrific tornado reduced the city of Natchez, Mississippi to splinters on this date in 1840. The twister hit ground 20 miles to the southeast on the morning of May 7 and wound its way northward , stripping everything in its path. Along the way, the tornado sank steamboats like the Hinds, the Prairie and the St. Lawrence; it devastated the plantations of David Barland and P.M. Lapice.; then came Natchez, the oldest European settlement along the Mississippi River.

The Natchez Free Trader later described the mid-day arrival of the twister
The dinner bells in the large hotels had rung and most . . . citizens were sitting at their tables when suddenly, the atmosphere was darkened, so as to require the lighting of candles; and, in a few moments afterwards, the rain was precipitated in tremendous cataracts rather than in drops. In another moment the tornado, in all its wrath, was upon us. The strongest buildings shook as if tossed with an earthquake. The air was black with whirling eddies of house walls, roofs chimneys, huge timbers torn from distant ruins, all shot through the air as if thrown from a mighty catapult.
After five minutes, most of the town lay in ruins. In addition to the wind damage, the extremely low air pressure caused many buildings to burst from the inside. More than a hundred boats, many of which bore food and other supplies for the surrounding county, were gone. In their wake, the river filled with pork, bacon, butter, lard, and vegetables in addition to the bodies of hundreds of dock workers and shipmen.

The official death toll was eventually placed at 317, though that figure was quite likely understated the human cost of the disaster, since enslaved people were not included in the tally.


On the 124th anniversary of the Natchez tornado and 49 years after a German torpedo sent the Lusitania to the bottom of the sea, a depressed San Francisco warehouse worker brought down a Pacific Airlines turboprop by shooting the pilot and co-pilot during an early morning flight home from Reno. The National Transportation Safety Board described the incident as an “act of self-destruction.” In addition to the shooter, 43 other people died when the plane crashed into a hill near San Ramon. No one survived.

With the benefit of hindsight, there were plenty of subtle clues that something like this might happen. Frank Gonzalez, who had traveled to Reno to gamble away the rest of his savings, had been telling friends and co-workers for weeks that he would die in early May. The day before his return to California, Gonzales purchased a .357 revolver. He would later display his new weapon to friends at the airport, where he purchased $105,000 in life insurance and told several people that he was planning to kill himself.

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