May 23 11:36 AM

Storm activity prompts memories of 1953 tornado

June 09, 2010
A yellowed and slightly tattered Flint Journal Special Edition dated July 1, 1953 tells the horrors of the tornado that killed at least 115 people and injured more than 900. Loss of life and property was concentrated mostly along Coldwater Road and Kurtz Ave. between Clio Road and N. Dort Highway. Its path was 28 miles through Genesee and Lapeer counties before it skipped into St. Clair County, then blew out over Lake Huron.

The tornado struck about 8:30 p.m. with little or no warning. One farmer said: "We didn't have more than a minute's warning because we didn't see it, just heard it."

Another farmer on Coldwater Road was milking his last cow, unaware the storm was brewing. He was irked when the family's pet dog came into the barn and made the cows restless. When the dog's yapping caused the cow he was milking to kick him, he scooped up the dog, opened the back door of the barn and was about to toss the dog into the yard when he looked up. Sweeping across the open fields toward him was the tornado, "looking like the black smoke that used to belch up from the Buick smokestacks years ago." The farmer was running across the road to a ditch and almost made it when the fringe of the whirling wind threw him to the ground in an alfalfa field where he was bounced up and down on the ground as he clutched at the alfalfa. "When you were a kid did you ever lie down close to the railroad tracks as a freight train went by and feel the earth shake? It was something like that only many, many times worse."

A customer at Lackey's Market, a grocery store on N. Saginaw Rd., had just climbed out of his car when he and the grocery store with about $1,500 just disappeared. Two days later Lackey was still looking for his store. He found part of the store's stock . . . one can of beans and one of fruit cocktail.

A lady on E. Coldwater Road said she looked out the door to find out what that roaring noise was because the kids were so curious. "I saw a big ball of fire, real bright, about the size of a big washtub, coming down the middle of the road. It was surrounded by the most awful black looked like black smoke. I yelled at the children and we dashed for the basement and just got down when it struck. It just shook the house and sounded like a hundred freight cars going over our head. I glanced out the basement window and saw that same ball of fire rolling down Coldwater Road."

Papers were blown as far as 200 miles. Across Lake Huron, Ontario residents collected papers and returned them.

I remember the evening of June 8, 1953. I went out to our brooder coop to tuck in our baby chicks. The oddest, most awful black cloud was in the northwest sky and moving east. I described it as a black witch's hand with fingers pointing eastward. I couldn't get it out of my mind. For some reason, I got up early the next morning and turned on the radio. A tornado had hit Flint, not too many blocks from my brother Floyd's home. Many people flocked to see the devastation. I didn't care to.

I'll try to get to the library and dig up more of Almont's former Homecomings. They have always meant so much to me.

—Country Cousin

Gertie Brooks is a lifelong Almont area resident. A 'farm girl,' Gertie is the premier historian for the Almont area, and frequently offers her memories and first-hand accounts in her 'Country Cousin' columns.
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