1953; The Flint-Beecher Tornado Was One Of The Deadliest On Record
When the twister history would record as the Flint-Beecher tornado touched down the night of June 8, 1953, it was one of eight tornadoes in the southeastern part of Michigan and northwest corner of Ohio.
Single-handedly, the Flint-Beecher tornado caused $19-million in damage, and killed 116 people. It ripped a line of devastation on the surface of the Earth half a mile wide, 23-miles long.
On record, it remains one of the single deadliest tornadoes to touch the ground.
Storm experts ranked the Flint-Beecher an F5 on the Fujita Scale. That means winds exceeded 200 mph. There is no F6 rating. For the residents of Beecher, located at the edge of Flint, Michigan, that night was one of the most terrifying of their lives.
The Afternoon of June 8, 1953
It was an otherwise normal summer day in Michigan, warm, somewhere in the 70 degrees range. The forecast that afternoon showed signs of some potentially bad weather.
According to one weather historian, it…
“…showed a warm front pushing northeast out of the Ohio Valley into Southern Lower Michigan.At the same time, a cold front was advancing east across Eastern Wisconsin.”
When cold and warm weather slams together, especially in the summer months in that region, folks today take cover. Back then, however, folks around Beecher didn’t much know about them.
Around 5 p.m.
One woman, Virginia Timm, still thinks of the Beecher Tornado every time there’s a bad storm. It was after 5 pm when she saw the clouds roll in. They were a strange yellow color. Then she heard sirens.
“It was really windy and then it got real calm, real still like. Then the winds picked up to the north. … It was really a bad thing,” said Timm to mlive.com. “I saw a refrigerator wrapped around a telephone pole.”
Timm’s home didn’t fall in the pathway of the twister, but she heard about it. She had friends who suffered injuries. Other friends lost family and property.
The first report of the tornado touching down came into the Flint observation center, the airport. The point of touchdown was two miles north of Flushing. From there, it moved west at about 35 mph.
It wouldn’t take long to uproot everything in its path, leaving behind a trail of devastation in its wake.
Leonard Brush, 18 years old, was at his girlfriend’s house when the storm arrived. It was hailing, and the wind grew so intense, Brush watched it uproot trees in the distance.
“When the windows blew out, we just hit the floor,” said Brush to mlive.com. “We didn’t know what was going on. We could see the wind. We could see a few trees blown over.”
That was last conscious moment, laying next to her on the living room floor.” Brush woke up about 100 feet from the house with a broken leg, after being unconscious for about 30 minutes. His girlfriend, Pat Fender, was gone.
About 9:15 p.m.
Not soon enough for those involved, but as quickly as it started It was over. The planetary scar left behind was full of bodies and wreckage.
Cars lay upside down, tossed into piles of remains where houses stood. In one place, a two-by-four penetrated a pillar of concrete. Elm trees, 100 years old, lay ripped from their roots like a giant had weeded them from the Earth.
In one unbelievable story, a letter left a couple’s home in Flint, then flew 200 miles to Southern Ontario where it self-delivered to the addressee.
That day in Michigan, eight tornadoes touched down. All told, 125 people died, most from the Beecher area. There were 925 injuries in all.
The larger community of Flint came out to help Beecher rebuild by gather funds, supplies, and putting boots on the ground to clean up. The people of Beecher would never get caught unprepared again.