Probably the worst disasters to hit the Alexandria/Pineville area were the tornados of 1907 and 1923. Before there was weather radar and pinpoint forecasting, all you could do was look at the sky and hope for the best. I have done considerable research on these event in the past year, reading newspaper accounts and looking at photographs. Had the 24-hour networks been around at the time, these storms would have merited national attention. Oddly enough, the two storms happened in April. The 1907 storm touched down on April 4th, and the 1923 storm on April 5th.
When the 1907 storm touched down, there were two Alexandrias—West Alexandria and Alexandria. The separation point was the Railroad tracks where the interstate runs through town today. The storm hit the city on Thursday, April 4that about 1:15am. West Alexandria bore the brunt of the devastation.
Contemporary Town Talk stories stated that the tornado started near Bayou Boeuf in the pine woods and traveled towards Bayou Robert and Rapides Bayou, near the R.G. Maddox plantation, about 2 miles from the city. It tore down and wrecked many homes as it passed Bayou Robert. It finally crossed the Red River, where it dissipated in the pine woods east of Pineville. The newspaper stated that four people were known dead. Their names were: Mat Dunn, Omer Beck, Lydia Harding and Ora Dudley. A large number of people were injured. The body of one man was found in the top of a tree on Bayou Rapides. Property loss was estimated at between $200,000 and $250,000. In 1907, that was a lot of damage. It would translate in the millions of dollars today.
Louis Gossens’ new two story store on Monroe Street was blown sideways, and would have to be torn down. The beautiful new nine-room home of Andrew J. Wolf was completely destroyed on Gould Avenue, today know as Rapides Ave. Mr. Wolf estimated his loss at $12,000. Mr. and Mrs. Wolf had been in New Orleans, and were returning during the storm on the T.& P. Cannonball Train. If they had been in their home at the time, they would not have survived. George A Patterson’s drug store and Koorie’s store on Monroe Street had the front of the stores blown out. The smoke stacks and the roof of the Alexandria Ice House were damaged as well as the City Power Generating Plant Stacks and roof. Hoyt’s Sanitarium ambulances were kept busy all that morning transporting the dead and wounded.
I have included the only two photographs of the 1907 Tornado that I have been able to find. One showing home damage and one picturing railroad yard damage.
The Tornado of April 5, 1923 was probably the worse of the two. Differing accounts set the death toll at between 14 and 17 people. It devastated Main Street in Pineville. The storm swept through Alexandria and Pineville in the early evening, at approximately 6:15pm. It followed Bayou Rapides to the mouth of the Red River and skipped to the Pineville side. It carved a 100-yard wide path straight down Main Street. The L.N. & R. railroad tracks were covered with debris. All wire communication between Alexandria and Pineville was originally cut off by the storm, but was restored two hours later.
Among some of the dead were Harry Marrus, merchant; Enoch Williamson and his 15 month old infant; Mr. and Mrs. Ed Gates; J.M. Morant; and Mrs. Alvin McCann. Numerous people were injured. Photographs from that time show tremendous damage done to all the homes on Main Street. The Louisiana College power plant and athletic field were destroyed. Cars were overturned in the street and several railroad passenger and freight cars were blown off their track.
A number of photographs of the carnage contain “X” marks were bodies were found after the storm. In one photograph of the railroad yards, there were three “X’s”. A number of the photographs had captions on them. Most of the homes and business were built with a wood frame rather than brick as they are today. That accounted for the major damage done. If you have any photographs or stories to share please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also welcome any suggestions on history topics to write about. Please visit our postcard site at www.alexandrialouisianapostcards.blogspot.com.