Shinnston tornado occurred 56 years ago today
BOB'N'ALONG by Bob Stealey, Editor

Many folks from Harrison and surrounding counties have heard their parents or grandparents speak of "the Shinnston tornado." But perhaps many are not aware that it was on this date -- June 23 -- 56 years ago that the tornado, which originated in the northwest, swept across the southern part of Shinnston and moved in an east-southeastward direction through Saltwell and on into Barbour County.

A free-lance writer, Eddie Gennoy, mentioned the killer storm in an item he sent me a year ago, shortly after the tornado that caused considerable damage in Oklahoma City.

Gennoy mentioned that the 1944 tornado claimed the lives of 66 people, although I've seen accounts that list a higher death toll. He cited two books from which he had obtained information -- John Finlayson's "The Shinnston Tornado," which was published in 1946, and Lena Poling Golden's "A History of the City of Shinnston," which was published a number of years later.

Gennoy wrote, "Shortly before 8:30 p.m., the threat of a storm seemed possible, but most residents paid little or no attention. They believed that it was just another thunderstorm and would pass.

"Several residents reported hearing strange and unnatural noises before the high winds and cone-shaped cloud became visible, according to 'A History of the City of Shinnston.'

"Once residents were aware of the impending storm, they scrambled to get away. Many ran into their homes, while others simply fell to the ground. There was basically no warning.

"Mr. and Mrs. H.R. Rice, who lived on Route 19, a half-mile south of Shinnston, stepped outside upon hearing the strange noises. They saw a cloud of heavy smoke, but decided it must be coming from the railroad and went back inside.

"Mrs. Rice sat down in her living room looking out the window toward Shinnston. Within seconds, she saw the storm coming straight ahead. She described the storm as having a revolving tail, twisiting and flipping as it tore through the Pleasant Hill Suburb of Shinston.

"Horrified, she yelled to her husband, telling him that all of the houses on South Shinston Hill were gone. Her husband in another room replied to his wife that she must be mistaken. But looking through the window he witnessed the devastation for himself.

"The Rices were shocked to see that 15 houses on the hill were gone. They both agreed it had to be a tornado. The Rice's accounts of the tornado came from the book 'Shinnston Tornado.'

"The tornado quickly passed and residents began uniting to help each other. With power and telephones out, rescue efforts were difficult.

Final numbers stated that 66 people died as a result of the tornado, along with thousands of dollars in damages.

"Witnesses and survivors recorded historical accounts of this unprecedented calamity.

" ... The rest, they say, is history. Shinnston residents worked together to rebuild the area, but would never forget this unexpected tragedy and the destruction they witnessed on that early summer evening in 1944."


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