1968 Freeburg, IL Tornado  

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On the evening of Wednesday, May 15th, 1968 an estimated F3 tornado ripped through the south side of the small town of Freeburg, IL. (25 miles southeast of St. Louis, MO.  1968 population approx. 2,000)   This tornado was part of the severe weather outbreak of May15-16th that hit parts of 10 states and produced 39 tornados.   The Freeburg tornado was estimated to have stayed on the ground for 2 miles and estimated to be 600 yards wide.

I was almost 7yrs old at the time and my family lived on South Richland Street which was in the tornado's path.  The color pictures below were taken at our house (no longer standing) and show some of the damage.  I don't remember too much of that night other than looking out our back porch and seeing the destroyed garage and the shelves on our back porch had fallen over.   I do however, remember that day.   It was very hot and muggy and later in the evening it was very windy. 

The following account of earlier storms in Freeburg was taken from: "Freeburg's Calamity - The 1968 Tornado and Its Aftermath" - David G. McGraw.

At approximately 9:30 Freeburg Marshall Clem Borger entered Sam’s Café on State Street and saw two Freeburg locals, Willard Wild and Paul Anderson.  Having often accompanied Borger, they were asked to ride to the edge of town on the Freeburg-Douglas Road to watch the incoming storm.  Now just out of town, the trio was hit by high winds, light rain, and frequent lightning.  Soon the pressure in the car was so great that talking became difficult.  In the rear window, Paul Anderson saw what appeared to be a trailer fly up in the air and slam against the Freeburg Milling and Grain Company’s large storage bin.  Anderson told Borger, “Clem, it’s a tornado.”  The Marshall quickly turned the car around and raced toward town calling on his car radio to the dispatcher that as many ambulances as possible should be sent to Freeburg at once.  The dispatcher’s immediate reply was “why?”  The Marshall, in a frenzied voice, replied that he was just ahead of the funnel and it was headed straight for Freeburg.  Borger would later describe the twister as “being white with a tail, with black clouds on either side.

 

One of our neighbors W.C. Eckert wrote about his experiences in "Ten Seconds of Terror."

 

Click here to view the KMOX-TV (St. Louis) News Extra about the tornado and its aftermath.  (Narrated/Reported by Jim Bolen.)   Also includes video from the other midwest towns affected by the May 15th-16th severe weather outbreak.

 

I was also sent additional higher resolution black/white pictures.  Click here to view.

 

 

Freeburg, IL - Service men picking up debris.

Tornado Rips Path Through Town - Kehrer's Trailer Court Completely Demolished; Four Dead; $2 Million Property Damage.

A tornado ripped through Freeburg at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday, May 15th causing over 2 million dollars damage.  There are four dead and over fifty known injured, but this number is rising. 

The tornado and storm that uprooted trees, smashed windows, buildings and demolished 16 trailer homes moved from the Smith-Douglas Road, down Apple street, past the Palomar Trailer Court out toward Mascoutah, leaving scores of injured and countless damage in its wake.  Most residents have not been able to complete the estimate of their damages.

Those known dead are Miss Edna Lurtz, 5 West Washington Streer; Robert Kehrer, 26 and his 7-year-old, son Randy and James Forbes Jr., two years old.

Hospitalized with injuries at St. Elizabeth Hosptial are Diane Bush, 21, Bernard Lybarger, 46, Virginia Lucash, 47, Mary Myers, 49, Betty Mueth, 21, Meta Grossman, 79, Janet Kehrer, 24, Gary Kehrer, 4 and Gallen Baker, 25.

Hospitalized at Memorial Hospital are Mary Lybarger, 41 and James Bush, 21, who are in intensive care, Gregory Bush, 8 months, Roger Papproth 25, Frances Papproth 24, Brian Papproth 6, Edward Akers and Eddie Akers Jr., 2

Many people were treated and dismissed at both hospitals, and many people who have helped with the rescue work have received minor injuries.  The entire populous of Freeburg is running around bleary eyed, as everyone spent a sleepless night.

Mrs. Olga (Elmer) Klingel, 66, or R.R. 2 Mascoutah is in a critical condition at St. Elizabeth's Hospital.

Kenneth Mueller, R.R. 2 lost barns, machine sheds, trailer home and everyting except his home, Norman Lembke, R.R. 2 Mascoutah lost large machine shed.  Cletus Dennis Frerking, New Memphis station lost a farm home and Kenneth Eidman suffered some property damage.

In Freeburg, the E.M. Weigmann & Comapny, large industrial plant, received major damages.  Freeburg Community High School has only about four class rooms left, they lost the roof to the old gym, the machine shop, six classrooms, and the bus garages were damaged.  Kehrer's Trailer Court of eleven trailer homes was completely demolished.  The two trailer homes East of the Kehrer trailer court owned by Bernard Lybarger and Roger Papproth were demolished.  The milling building of Freeburg Milling and Supply Company was badly damaged.  The soda storage building belonging to Donald Smith was destroyed.  Valentine's Hotel and the Hanner Standard Station across from it were badly damaged.  Palomar trailer homes and at least two other trailer homes were overturned.

The Renner Funeral Home is unable to use the funeral home for funerals because of severe damage to the ceilings and roof of the funeral home building.  The garage in which the ambulance and other funeral vehicles were stored was a mess of debris.

Many, many other homers, and store buildings were also damaged.

People who saw the tornado hit the Kehrer Trailer Court described it as exploding and flying everywhere.  The clothes were completely torn from many of the casualties.

Freeburg was in total darkness from the time the tornado struck (except homes in goose bottom) until repairs could be made to the power lines.

The telephone service was hampered, no one could call out of Freeburg, but people of some areas were able to call in.  Gas lines were broken in the path of the tornado, and Illinois Power was summoned to stop leakage.

 

Freeburg, IL        Freeburg, IL - View of what once was a garage.

 

Freeburg District Hit Hard by Storm - Damage Expected to Run Into Millions - Four persons were killed and at least 39 injured when a tornado struck Freeburg at 9:35 p.m. Wednesday.  Minutes later the twister touched down in rural Mascoutah and injured two more persons.

The dead are:  Miss Edna Lurts, 57, of 5 Washington Street, who was found dead in her housetrailer; Robert Kehrer, 26 and his son, Randy, 7, who live in a trailer court owned by Mr. Kehrer's father, Louis Kehrer, Sr., 72; and James Forbes, Jr. 2, whose parents reside in the same trailer court.

The injured included Mr. Kehrer, Sr.; Robert Kehrer's wife, Janet, 24 and another son, Gary 4.  Mrs. Kehrer and Gary are confined to St. Elizabeth Hospital while Louis Kehrer was at Memorial Hospital and dismissed.

The twister struck and demolished the home of Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Klingel, R.R. 2, Mascoutah.  Klingle's wife Olga, 66 is in the intensive care unit at St. Elizabeth's and her condition is critical.  She suffered head and chest injuries.  Her husband, who is 63 was treated at the same hospital and dismissed.  The tornado which struck St. Clair County was one of about fifty that tore through communities in 10 states from Minnesota to Alabama.

In addition to the 41 treated at St. Elizabeth and Memorial Hospitals, State Police said four persons suffered minor injuries at 10:50 p.m. when a twister struck south of New Memphis in Clinton County.  The four were treated at Scott Air Force Base Hospital.

The tornado picked up all ten trailers at Kehrer's court located west of Freeburg on the Douglas Road.  Some were hurled several hundred feet.

The twister hit Freeburg Community High School and ripped off the roof of the old gymnasium, damaged the roof of the administration building, shattered a wall on the west side and broke numerous windows.  Superintendent Frank Nation called off classes for the day.

The Freeburg Elementary School was damaged to a lesser degree and Superintendent Carl Barton L. Barton cancelled classes for the day.  Teachers from both schools joined in helping remove the debris.

Wiegmann Plant Hit

The E.M. Wiegmann Company's plant sustained serious damage.  It is directly east of the Kehrer trailer court.  Some of the girders from the plant were found four blocks away.  One girder slashed through the trunk of a car given to a girl for a graduation present.

The George Renner and Son's Funeral Home reported its garage was demolished along with an ambulance and a floral truck.  The funeral home will be out of operation several days.  Caskets were thrown about the premises.

There was some damage to the Methodist Church, across the street from the funeral home.  The American Legion Home, was struck and several cars on the parking lot were pushed together in an accoordion fashion.

The roof of a Standard Service Station on U.S. Route 460 was found on the parking lot for Valentine's Restaurant.

Mill Damaged

The Freeburg Milling and Supply Company's two grain elevators were damaged and there was extensive damage to some of the community's stately trees over a 10-block area.

The Illinois Central Railroad was tied up for 1 1/2 hours until debris could be moved from its tracks.

Telephone communications were knocked out along with power service.  In some instances, gas escaped from pipes that were severed as houses and trailers were damaged.

State Police rushed reinforcements to the community and they were joined by some National Guardsmen, Army and Air Force detachments, Civil Defense Center workers and deputy sheriffs along with Belleville police officers.

Power was restored in many sections by midday and telephone workers hoped to have service back to normal by night fall.

Damage Estimated

At 5 a.m. the State Police issued a preliminary estimate of the damage and said it would exceed $1,500,000.

The same survey said 50-60 houses were damaged along with 15 house trailers.  Numerous autos were smashed.

For several hours, traffic was halted along U.S. Route 460, the artery that flows through Freeburg.  But later traffic was restored and a plea was issued for sightseers to stay out of the community.

Belleville escaped damage from the storm although rainfall at the News Democrat measured 1.5 inches in about an hour's time.

 

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

 

The above picture was taken in the parking lot of the American Legion Home (south west corner of South Richland and West Apple) looking north east.

Notes:

- The Methodist Church building is no longer standing.

- The Methodist Church education building is now the Freeburg town hall building.

- The American Legion Home is no longer standing.

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- The Renner Funeral Home still stands on the north-west corner of South Richland and West Apple.

- Picture from the Belleville News Democrat

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- The destroyed trailer court was on the south side of West Apple street between South Walnut street and South West street.

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- West Apple Street is also known as Douglas Road.

- The E.M. Wiegmann plant is still operational. (now Hubble/Wiegmann)

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Smith's Soda garage was on South Alton, just north of West Apple.

- The garage is still standing today and used by the family.

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- The building of the former Freeburg Milling Company is still standing. (Dressler Grain company)

- Picture from the Belleville News-Democrat.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

The above picture was taken at the north-east corner of South Richland and West Apple looking south-west.

Notes:

- The Renner Funeral Home still stands on the north-west corner of South Richland and West Apple.

- The American Legion Home is no longer standing.

- Picture from the Belleville News-Democrat.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- The E.M. Wiegmann plant is still operational. (now Hubble/Wiegmann)

- Picture from the Belleville News-Democrat.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

The above picture was taken at the north-east corner of West Washington and South Richland and West Apple looking south-west.

Notes:

- The Renner Funeral Home is in the background.

- The Methodist Church building is no longer standing.

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture taken along West Apple street looking west.  (info provided by Lee Smith)

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture taken along West Apple looking south

- Picture from the Belleville News-Democrat.

 

Notes:

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Notes:

- Picture from the Freeburg Tribune.

 

Freeburg, IL - tornado damage

Fragments of Housetrailers lie strewn among broken furniture in an open field east of the Louis J. Kehrer Sr. Trailer Court, leveled by Wednesday night's tornado that struck Freeburg.  All 10 of the trailers in the court were demolished by the twister, which struck without warning shortly before 10 p.m.  The court, near the house in the background, is just off Douglas Road.

Notes:

- Picture from the Belleville News-Democrat.

 

 

The following account of earlier storms in Freeburg was taken from: "Freeburg's Calamity - The 1968 Tornado and Its Aftermath" - David G. McGraw.

Apparently 1968 wasn't so lucky for Freeburg...  On Wednesday, April 4th at about 6:15pm a violent thunderstorm or tornado struck the Growth Implement and Service station collapsing three walls and part of the roof.  Damage was estimated at $100,000.  Many of the Cub Cadet tractors and a combine sold by Groth's were found in the pond of Mitch Stookey's farm.  The storm/tornado also destroyed a shed on the Stookey farm located 1/4 mile from the Groth station.  Roofs were also torn off on the east end of town and the city electricians worked until 1am restoring electric service.  Telephone service was halted in and out of Freeburg most of the night, with relatives unable to call to see if their family members had survived the storm/tornado.  Many people, unable to get their relatives by phone, rushed to Freeburg after hearing the news of the storm on radio and television.  Major damage also resulted in Belleville, Millstadt, and other surrounding communities.

 

 

Effects of the Storm  -  The Kinmundy Express -  Kinmundy, IL  -  May 23, 1968

Mr. Clyde Bassett reports finding a piece of wood paneling from a trailer and a sheet of aluminum trailer siding 3 feet by 6 feet in his barn lot on Thursday morning.  Just where the debris came from will never be known for certain.  But it could be and it might be parts of trailers which were demolished in Freeburg, Ill. the night before by the tornado.  Mr. John W. McCalley reports that he also found a piece of wood paneling 2 feet by 8 feet, supposedly from a trailer in one of his fields on Thursday afternoon.

Note #1  -  Kinmundy is approximately 80 miles east northeast of Freeburg.

Note #2  -  My wife (Dolores Ford Mobley) ran across this article while doing local research.  Dolores grew up in the Kimundy area and her grandfather is Clyde Bassett!!!

 

 

Links:

www.freeburg.com

National Weather Service Forecast Office

May 1968 Tornado outbreak (wikipedia.com)

 

 

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