Forgotten History – Memphis Responds to Tupelo, MS 1936

Over the past 100 years when a neighboring community experienced a devastating disaster, like a tornado, The Memphis Fire Department and our wonderful medical community has loaded up on a ” special train ” and headed into harm’s way to help out. Our brave men and women have gone to Poplar Bluff Missouri, Paducah Kentucky, Tupelo, Holly Springs (twice), Greenville and Hernando Mississippi, and to Somerville, Brownsville, and Waverly TN. They have also been across the river to West Memphis and Wynne, AR a number of times. Here is one of those stories.

Sunday night April 5, 1936, just after 8PM, a large black cloud appeared at the west of Tupelo, Mississippi and within fifteen minutes 40 city blocks would be completely destroyed. The area, which cut through the heart of the central business district, resulted in no electric power, water, sewer or telephone service. The city was in ruins. Upon receipt of the disaster Memphis loaded up a Fire Department Pumper along with 10 fire fighters, 17 doctors, 25 nurses and several box cars of medical supplies and responded on a “ Special Train “ to Tupelo, 115 miles to the south. Ambulances from Memphis and surrounding communities also responded.  By the next day,  the US Corps of Engineers, the Civilian Conservation Corps,  American Red Cross  and the Mississippi National Guard had all arrived.  There were more than 2000 people homeless, 1200 injured, and tragically 200 dead.  Medical supplies were brought in by train, truck and by air carriers. By the afternoon of the next day there were 93 severely injured victims in Memphis hospitals suffering from shock, crush injuries, broken backs and limbs, all related to the tornado. Memphis poured its heart  to help the homeless, stranded and destitute. The final financial cost was between 3 and 4 million dollars damage.


Written by Joe Lowry with research and editorial assistance by Trish Gully.

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