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Friday, Aug. 29, 2014

Tornado on May 15, 1986, remembered

Monday, May 15, 2006

(Photo)
This photo was taken on Thursday, May 15, 1986, by Wanda Dill Griswold of Morehouse.
Standing on the front lawn of her home in Morehouse, Wanda Dill Griswold stared straight up and looked into the bottom of what she now describes as an oversized hornets' nest.

"Never in my life have I seen anything like it. And I've been around this world a while -- since 1929," Griswold said.

That "nest," of course, swarmed Southeast Missouri in the form of several tornadoes on Thursday, May 15, 1986, killing four people and injuring 35 in Sikeston, Vanduser and Cape Girardeau. Locally, one person, Roy Hicks, 76, was killed when a twister demolished his trailer in Vanduser.

About 220 homes and business were destroyed in Sikeston alone. Areas damaged by the tornadoes included the eastern portion of Sikeston, which included Helen, Cambridge, Arlington, Garwood and Sharp streets. Telephone service in some areas was out for several days.

Virtually every building was damaged in Vanduser, and tornadoes also ripped through and caused damage in other surrounding communities.

More than seven inches of rain accompanied the storm. Tornadoes and flooding caused so much damage then-Gov. John Ashcroft declared Cape Girardeau and Scott counties as disaster areas and activated the National Guard.

Once the tornado passed over Morehouse, Griswold said she got her camera, and she and a friend chased the tornado by car into Sikeston.

"I just remember we were out driving around watching the tornadoes, and we saw one after that one hit Sikeston. It was unreal," Griswold said.

Griswold said at the time, she wasn't worried about safety.

"I should've been," Griswold now admits.

Meanwhile, in the city of Sikeston, Glenna Priday and her husband, Bill, were visiting their son across town while their other college-aged son was at their home at 915 Arlington Drive.

"We called him and told him tornadoes were coming," Priday said.

Priday said her son followed appropriate tornado drill procedures and took shelter on the bottom floor of their tri-level home. He was huddled in the corner of the room and a piece of wood busted through a window.

"He wasn't harmed," Priday said. "After the sound like a train ended, he said everything was quiet. He heard a neighbor calling for us, and it startled him because there was no roof on the house."

The Pridays rushed home immediately, only to find their street blocked by trees knocked down by the tornado. A neighbor informed them their son was OK, and the Pridays quickly settled into recovery mode.

"It was neighbors helping neighbors," Priday said.

The Pridays' home was completely destroyed. Everything was either taken out or filled with glass, mud and other debris, Priday said. The washer and dryer were the only items not affected.

"The next day, and when the rain had stopped, daylight came, and we went over to see if we had anything salvageable. Friends were there to help us sort through things," Priday said.

At the time, Priday was an elementary teacher preparing for the end of the school year. She found papers and her grade book, which had been on a lower level, in an upstairs bathtub.

Following the storm, the Pridays stayed with friends before moving into an apartment. Later that summer they moved into another house.

Missouri Delta Medical Center reportedly saw 24 tornado-related accidents come through the emergency room the evening the tornadoes hit. Most injuries were broken bones or cuts from the flying debris.

"Initially it was really scary because ambulances were coming in afterward and saying it was a disaster scene and 100 people were dead. It was a complete devastation," recalled Charles Ancell, who was the administrator-in-charge at Missouri Delta Medical Center following the event.

As a result, the hospital staff expected a tremendous number of patients and ordered extra blood and medical supplies. Every available physician was called in -- most of whom responded. And fortunately, the aftermath wasn't as bad as it seemed.

"The public was so well informed the tornado was coming, most everyone was in a shelter of some sort," Ancell said. "It was not an unexpected storm, and KFVS was covering it pretty heavily."

The emergency situation at the hospital was pretty much over by the next day, Ancell said.

"I just remember that we had everybody sitting at emergency room waiting for disaster," Ancell said.

Twenty years have passed -- and it's gone by very quickly, Priday said. A new home now sits at 915 Arlington Drive, and Priday said she has viewed the site since the tornado struck.

"I was back when they were rebuilding and walked through and saw it and since then, I've seen it in passing," Priday said. "The trees have grown back and its similar to way it was before."

Although she doesn't have a deep fright when severe weather strikes, Priday admits the damage it can cause is never far from her mind.

"Don't take the (weather) warnings lightly," Priday advised. "Tornadoes can turn. They seem to be going one way and then turn a different direction. You might not think you're in the path, but one doesn't know."