Easter Sunday ended tragically in Omaha 108 years ago today. Death and devastation unlike any in Nebraska before or since roared through Omaha when a monster tornado ripped a bloody scar across the heart of the city.
The 1913 Easter tornado struck Ralston and Omaha with no warning, wiped out several thousand buildings and homes, and caused more than 100 deaths. Ralston, not quite a year from its incorporation as city, was almost entirely leveled and seven people were killed.
The massive storm cut a path two to four blocks wide across the city, going north and was undiscriminating in the damage it wrought. It tore through the homes of the rich and the hovels of the poor. An estimated 103 people were killed and 350 injured in the Omaha area. Five other tornadoes in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa killed about 65 others, injuring 240 more.
About 750 of Omaha’s more than 2,000 damaged houses were destroyed. Ten churches, five schools, three convents and a hospital were damaged or destroyed. Electrical, telephone and telegraph lines, streetcars and railcars were toppled. Fires from broken natural gas lines or upturned wood-burning stoves threatened widespread conflagration. Damage was estimated at $8.7 million.
The Omaha tornado — now categorized by the National Weather Service as an F4 storm with 166- to 200-mph winds — was part of the most catastrophic outbreak of tornadoes in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa history.
The storm hit with all its fury at about 6 p.m., wreaking what the Omaha Bee described as heart-rending havoc. Several days later, a photograph of a regulator clock hanging on the wall at the Electric Garage at 40th and Farnam Streets was found to have stopped at exactly 5:49 p.m., fixing the time the tornado hit.