Deeply researched, personal accounts of the Midwestern natural disaster whose ramifications can be felt today.
Journalist Williams (C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America, 2007) offers an eerily prescient work that comes in the wake of another storm of the century, Hurricane Sandy. In mid-March 1913, a series of tornadoes accompanied by a deluge of rain on saturated, thawing ground caused inordinate damage to a swath of Ohio and Indiana, impacting both neighboring states and those as far away as Vermont and New Jersey and leaving approximately 1,000 dead and untold damage to the heartland. Williams has delved into the archives and extracted the stories of survivors and many who perished, tragedies witnessed by many and recorded in newspapers, books and memories passed down. The beginnings could be felt on March 23, in Omaha, Neb., when a twister ripped through town and killed 140 people and destroyed thousands of homes; other tornadoes wreaked havoc from Chicago to Terre Haute, followed by a downpour that swelled the rivers, coursing rapidly through towns. Williams pummels readers with countless anecdotes and pursues the fates of such characters as the Red Cross’ national director Ernest P. Bicknell, who scrambled in the field to lend aid, or the young residents of the Allen County Orphans’ Home in Fort Wayne, Ind. The author also looks at the lessons taken from the aftermath, such as the work of engineer Arthur E. Morgan, who implemented a revolutionary flood-control system for the region.
A well-honed chronicle of a significant national disaster, especially timely following the destruction of Sandy.