August 15, 1946
A tornado kills eleven and injures sixty individuals in Mankato and North Mankato, and a second tornado injures 200 people in Wells an hour later.*
A little know fact about the United States is its distinction of the greatest volume of tornadoes on the planet, and also the most severe. June and August, historically, are the worst months for the Midwest and Southern Canada. During this season, the animus for these storms are humid warm fronts from the Gulf of Mexico mingling with colder and drier ones from the Rockies. Minnesota is situated on the northern edge of this region infamously known as Tornado Alley. ***
The twister that struck Mankato, North Mankato, and Wells on this day apparently only lasted for a “couple minutes”. Most trees were leveled, and those left standing were stripped bare like telephone poles. Cars parked in the town were blown roughly 50 yards into the ravine of the railway. Even a 27 ton grader blew into this gorge, and the whole tangled mess stopped rail traffic. ****
An anomaly of any tornadic system is the randomness of its damage, and this storm in 1946 was no different. For example, a prominent structure downtown, the Oran building, was totaled, but those attending a birthday party there, remarkably, all escaped injury. Conversely, the Melvin family turkey farm lost 4,000 birds. The body of a Mr. Wirig of Mankato was found over a half mile from where the storm hit his resort cabin. ****
According to the testimony of first responder Donald Wold, he hadn’t seen “anything like this since I fought the Germans in France”, and “people were lying everywhere”. Scrambling to accommodate the injured, a bread truck driver used its racks to haul 7 people to the hospital in Mankato. Two alert utility workmen shut the power grid down, and were later credited with saving many structures from electrical fires.*****
Those involved in the clean-up demonstrated resolve and resourcefulness typical of Minnesotan’s. Area small towns sent anyone who could help out. Local farmers used their tractors to “push and pull” as needed. The cities of Faribault and Blue Earth sent their street departments and highway construction departments to clear debris and begin the rebuild.******
Lord, we thank You for the light and dark of this event. You are Master of our Environment. You ordain and use weather according to Your purposes and the survival of the planet. You are Master of the soothing summer breeze in Honiara, the Arabian sirocco, the Scottish snell, the icy gales of Everest, and this Midwestern tornado of Mankato. Will You give us insight, Dear One, we struggle to comprehend the good You intend?
Forgive the judgments made against You in the aftermath of this storm. Will You specifically release those from Mankato, North Mankato, and Wells whose responses may have offended You? Will You forgive those who may have clung to their pain unable to look up? We can’t see Your purpose when a human body is flown a half mile in the wind. We fail to grasp the utility of the uneven attack of this storm; why does one family lose its’ flocks while another cheats death?
This prayer moves us to ponder the cries of the qoheleth, most likely written by King Solomon who was reputed to be the wisest man who ever lived.
“Meaningless! Meaningless! says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless. What does a man gain from all his labor at which he toils under the sun?” Ecclesiastes 1:2,3 NIV *******
Later, Solomon adds an insight into the relationship we have with our planet.
“Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.” Ecclesiastes 1:4 NIV *******
He described the limits of human understanding nine times in his book as a “chasing after the wind”.
At first glance, this may seem one of the most hopeless books ever written. It is even darker because of the amazing learning and success of Solomon. “If the man who has it all can’t be happy”, one wonders, “who can”?
Yet he leads us to a clue in his phrases. Everything under the sun is meaningless, and a chasing after the wind. But what exists above the sun? What is unlimited by the laws of nature and the universe, but its Creator?
So we invite You into this tragedy past. Bring Your meaning. Bring Your life. We did not yet understand You on August 15, 1946, nor do we grasp the depth of Your purpose now. Come and bless Minnesota with Your Presence; may we sense that which is beyond our senses, and accept that there is more than than right now. May we stop “chasing after the wind”, look up, and find Eternal Wisdom after the storm!
* P.T.H. cites timeline formerly at this URL: mnhs.org/about/dipity_timeline.htm
The Minnesota Historical Society Web site, http://www.mnhs.org, is fantastic! Check it out! Images are from https://images.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl; again, an amazing resource!
** “Aftermath of the August 17, 1946 tornado in Mankato, Minnesota.”
**** Beitler, Stu. “The Evening Tribune”. Albert Lea, Minnesota. 1946-08-19 pg1 http://www.gendisasters.com/minnesota/18697/mankato-wells-mn-tornado-aug-1946?page=0%2C3
***** Beitler, Stu. “The La Crosse Tribune” Wisconsin. 1946-08-18 pg1 http://www.gendisasters.com/minnesota/18697/mankato-wells-mn-tornado-aug-1946
****** Beitler, Stu. “The Evening Tribune”. Albert Lea, Minnesota. 1946-08-19 pg3 http://www.gendisasters.com/minnesota/18697/mankato-wells-mn-tornado-aug-1946?page=0%2C3