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Leedey Tornado, May 31, 1947


June 1, 1947 The Oklahoman
Tornado Rips Leedey At Least Six Killed;
Property Loss Heavy
Help Is Rushed To Storm Area;
15 Are Injured

Phone Lineman Sends
Word of Disaster;
Siren Warns Citizens

Leedey, May 31 - (Special) - A destructive tornado flattened two-thirds of this city's business and residential section Saturday night and first reports said at least six were dead.

Jack Sapp, a telephone lineman who sent out the first word of the disaster from a telephone pole at the edge of town, said a temporary morgue set up in the Leedey school had six bodies.

Sapp said the injured were being taken to an emergency hospital set-up in the Methodist church basement where doctors, nurses and ambulance from a half dozen western Oklahoma cities were converging.

15 Feared Injured

E. E. McFarlond, Leedey car dealer, said he believed there were 15 or 20 injured.

Sapp reported the following bodies had been brought to the improvised morgue but he was unable to give their ages:

B. A. Abbott,
A. A. Butler
Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Albritton
H. J. Kitchen
Mrs. Ada Mulloy

Sapp said two-thirds of the city was destroyed. The storm-conscious city was forewarned of the approaching storm and that averted a much heavier toll of dead or injured among the city's 666 residents.

A warning sounded by siren and loud-speaker sent many of the city's residents into storm cellars.

Approaching Cloud Watched.

The Leedey Ford dealer gave a grapic description of the approach of the storm:
"I saw the cloud approaching and took one of my employees home and got my own family down into the cellar," he said. "The storm just damaged a corner of my house and all my family is safe."

Another vivid picture came from Rev. Elmer Shackleford, pastor of the Church of Christ.
"My wife and two children watched the storm a long time before it hit. We saw the black clouds and the funnel coming in from the west. Pretty soon we saw what we were in for and went to the storm cellar.

"It sounded like a locomotive letting off steam. Suddenly the door of the cellar blew off and part of the casing tore away. When I poked my head out after the wind died down, the first thing I looked at was my church. There was a lot of lumber. That was all.

Home Is Wrecked.

"My house was wrecked too, and my car. The steel legs of the water tower were twisted and tied together like a rope."

The telephone lineman sent out the first word from the improvised circuit he set up at Leedey's edge. All phone circuits to the city itself were down, and Leedey was without lights.

An Elk City newspaper employee, Peyton Kloyfenstein, said he started to Leedey with a nurse and turned back four miles from town because the highway was crowded with ambulances, highway patrol cars and other emergency vehicles.

Medical assistance was rushed from Elk City, Sayre, Clinton, Watonga and other nearby towns.

The highway patrol rushed in all available cars in that district.

Fire Siren Sounded

The first injured brought out was Everett Lee Walton, who was admitted to the Community hospital at Elk City about midnight with a broken jaw.

Sapp said he was at work at the telephone office when the storm formed and watched it approach for about 45 minutes before it struck.

"I operate the fire siren from the telephone office and I sounded that. I also turned on a loud speaker and warned people to get to cover."

"By the time the storm hit I think just about everyone was off the streets and headed for storm cellars. That probably kept a lot of people from getting hurt."

Leedey is in Dewey County about 40 miles north of Elk City.


June 2, 1947, The Oklahoman

Leedey's Loss Hits $1 Million After Tornado
Six Dead, 15 Hurt As Twister Shatters Dewey County Area

Leedey, June 1 - It's churches were gone but Leedey dug from it's ruins and offered thanks Sunday after a devastating tornado Saturday night killed six persons and caused an estimated damage of $1 million damages.

Many of its residents Saturday owned homes, cars and all the furnishings accumulated in a lifetime. Sunday all the Dewey county residents had were the clothes they were wearing.

In 10 terrifying minutes a slow moving tornado crushed this north-western city. Fifteen persons were injured as the vicious twister moved from southwest to northeast. Leedey's thanks Sunday, although it was barren, twisted and two-thirds demolished, were that more lives were spared as the tornado ground through the southwestern edge of Dewey county.

Residents Are Warned

Many of the thanks were directed to Jack Sapp, telephone lineman, who spotted the approaching storm and warned the town. Forewarned, most of Leedey took refuge in storm cellars before the twister struck.

The dead:
B. B. Abbott, a baker
Harry Kitchens, a carpenter
A. A. Butler, justice of peace
Mrs. Ada Malloy, housewife
J. A. Albritton, retired farmer and former Baptist minister
Mrs. J. A. Albritton

Injured were Miss Helen Craig, 10, Mr and Mrs. A. C. Quattlebaum, E. L. Walton, David Abbott jr, 12, Margaret Abbott 10, Alice Abbott, 14, Mrs. Mollie Abbott, W. H. Ferguson, Nell Waggoner, Mrs. Tom McKay and Earl McGann, all of Leedey; Walde Roden, 18, Elk City, and Victor Wood, 18, of Sayre, and Robert R. McCown, Canute.

Three Are In Car Mishaps

Wood, Roden and McCown, the most seriously injured of the 15, were in auto accidents which followed the tornado. All are patients in Tisdal hospital in Elk City. McCown suffered internal injuries.

Walton, reported in good condition at community hospital, Elk City, Earl McGann and David Abbott jr, were the only others held for treatment Sunday.

Miss Craig and Mr. and Mrs. Quattlebaum were released Sunday morning. Alice Abbott, Margaret Abbott, Mrs. Mollie Abbott, Ferguson, Nell Waggoner and Mrs. Tom McKay were given first aid and kept in Leedey homes Saturday night.

McCown was speeding to Leedey Saturday night when his car turned over on the outskirts of town. He is is still in critical condition. Roden and Packer, fleeing towards Elk City from the Leedey tornado, missed a bridge and plunged 25 feet into a creek Saturday night. They were not found until 14 hours later, Packer still pinned in the car.

Mayor Praises Action

Leedey was crowded with Saturday night shoppers when Sapp saw the approaching tornado and sounded the city fire alarm. He also announced on a downtown public address system that a tornado was approaching.

Five minutes later Main Street was deserted, shoppers fleeing to residential district storm cellars or driving out of the path of the storm in their cars.

This prompt action was credited by Mayor Floyd R. Gale as saving "at least 200 lives in the residential district." He added if the tornado had hit after dark, unnoticed, there was no telling what the toll might have been.

The early warning was also the cause of agonizing minutes for the watching citizens as the ominous cloud spent at least 30 minutes moving across the rolling countryside south of Leedey.

Then witnesses said the storm with a roar equal to a dozen freight trains settled on the southwestern edge of town. It first ripped the grain elevator and train depot, lifted to Main street and damaged every business house. As relentlessly as a giant rake the wind then meshed through the residential district of town. After it passed all that remained were 30 blocks of rags, twisted cars and not a single standing house except those on the fringes of the storm's path.

School Is Unroofed.

The tornado first unroofed the Three Corner school, 13 miles west and four miles south of Leedey. There the storm's swath where it cut through a fence row was only 300 yards wide.

It struck the ground again about two miles south of Leedey and then settled on the edge of town. The spout then widened and a path of destruction one-half mile wide was mowed thorugh the small livestock-farming community.

In a direct line from southwest to northeast the tornado moved about one and one-half miles through Leedey before it again skipped into the air.

Frightened citizens huddled in groups of 16 to 20 in storm cellars under the storm's path reported the floors of the shelters jumped four and five inches and canned fruit toppled from shelves as the storm shook the ground.

Many freakish incidents were reported. The storm struck from the southwest but debris flew in all directions when the residential section disintegrated.

Bell Hurled 75 Yards

Chimneys from one house sailed to the north; a car at the same house sailed to the west for a hundred yards, and the heavy church bell of a destroyed church was thrown at least 75 yards in the direction from which the storm arrived.

As the thunder of the tornado died away one witness said a silence as deep as death blanketed the residential area. "When I loked up out of my storm cellar it was like waking up in another world. All I could see where our homes had been was rubbish. Then I could see other people just as frightened and wondering as I looking around."

The twister moved through the town in less than 10 minutes, destroying 75 percent of the business district and at least 100 homes. Another 200 or 300 homes were partially destroyed and lights and water service were curtailed.

Mayor Gale, vice-president of First National Bank at Leedey, estimated damage would run from $750,000 to $1 million.

Meeting Is Planned

He said he had not yet had time to think about rehabilitation plans but that a meeting of civic leaders would be held sometime Monday to begin laying plans for Leedey's rebuilding.

"We hope to take care of ourselves," Gale said, "but then Woodward thought it could do that, too. We will have to see what we need before we can make any definite plans or statements."

City officials were working Sunday to restore water service to homes and buildings where pipes remained intact, and portable generators were arriving through the day to give light.

No attempts at cleaning up the debris was made Sunday as Leedey citizens stood around in dazed clusters, or picked aimlessly in piles of rags, filth and mud for treasured mememtos.

Elk City's Company C., 179th infantry, arrived at Leedey at 11 p.m. Saturday night, without orders, to maintain order and guard demolished shops and homes.

Guard Outfit Arrives

Clinton's Headquarters Co., 1st battalion, 179th infantry, arrived shortly after and relieved the Elk City guardsmen of their watches at 8 a. m. Sunday.

There were no reported instances of looting in the little town of 855 persons where all of the residents knew each other by name. Frequently in the stricken area women picking at fragments in the mud and sticks would identify some article of clothing or dishes that belonged to friends.

All the dead and injured were taken from Leedey by midnight Saturday, the highschool auditorium made available as temporary housing for those whose homes had been destroyed.

Few took advantage of the cots and shelter, however, and either stayed with friends or stood downtown in front of the Salvation Army coffee stand and waited for the dawn.

Before the sun cleared the horizon Sunday residents were busy in the half light searching for personal belongings. Most are doomed to disappointment. Where the tornado hit Leedey it picked it clean.

Newspapers reported volunteers from communities of Butler, Camargo, Canute, Carter, Clinton, Cordell, Elk City, Hammon, Mangum, Reydon, Sayre, Sentinel, Woodward among those that assisted Leedey in the cleanup with work and contributions.