The tornado (called a "cyclone" in those days), took 49 lives and injured 600. It was rated as F4, had a path length of 15 miles and a path width of 1,200 yards; it struck around seven o'clock in the evening. A huge fire erupted following the passage of the tornado.
Here is a description of the tornado from the book Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991 by Thomas P. Grazulis:
Moved from 5 miles southwest of Brinkley to 10 miles northeast of that city. Along the entire path, homes were blown down or swept away. Within the city of Brinkley, several entire families were killed as over 800 buildings including 260 homes were destroyed. Two thousand other buildings, of which 750 were homes, were damaged. The losses totaled about $600,000. Forty-two deaths occurred in the city and seven were in rural areas.
Newspaper articles from the time included additional details:
- With the first relief trains from Helena, Forrest City and neighboring towns went all the available fire fighting apparatus, but the destruction of the waterworks at Brinkley practically rendered them useless and the conflagration burned itself out.
- Among the buildings destroyed were the stations of the Rock Island, Arkansas Midland and Cotton Belt Railroads. In the latter building the telegraph operator, T. N. Kinnell, and a lineman named Richards were caught by the falling timbers, but were not hurt to any extent. When they had crawled out from the ruins they walked to Wheatley, a town about two miles from Brinkley, and sent out the first word of the disaster. Kinnell's message told that all the railroad tracks passing through Brinkley were blocked by the fallen walls of the stations and by small outhouses and trees which were blown across the rails by the storm. Forrest City, twenty miles east of Brinkley, was the first town to send aid. A special train was made up there, and loaded with all the doctors in town, 100 nurses and helpers and the fire companies with hose and several engines, started for Brinkley.
- The tornado hovered about the city only a few minutes, but its work of destruction was complete. The Roman Catholic Church, standing directly in the path of the storm alone escaped damage or destruction and stands a grim sentinel on a scene of desolation. Main Street and Cypress Avenue, the two principal thoroughfares of the town are now impassable and piled high with wreckage from end to end. Every business house is in ruins and there is hardly a home that has not at least suffered the loss of a roof or wing. The Arlington Hotel was totally demolished. Eighty guests were registered there but all escaped uninjured. The Brinkley Hotel, Southern Hotel and Kelly Hotel were all destroyed without loss of life. Relief squads have been at work all day caring for the death and injured. The Rock Island and Cotton Belt railways have placed cars at the disposal of the relief committee and many people are leaving Brinkley seeking a temporary refuge at other points nearby. The dead were sent to Helena from which point interment will take place. The Catholic Church has been converted into a hospital and there the doctors and nurses are caring for the injured. The citizens of Helena, have generously offered the use of their homes for the destitute.
Story information courtesy: The National Weather Service in Little Rock.
Photo courtesy: GenDisasters.com