Struggles of Stricken Omaha
A BLIZZARD-LIKE STORM—COUNTING THE COST—"THE GREATEST CONCEIVABLE BLOW"—SEARCHING FOR THE DEAD—A DAY OF FUNERALS—MORE CASES OF DESTITUTION—PLANS FOR REBUILDING.
As if the storm of Easter Sunday were not enough calamity, a blizzard-like storm descended upon the city of Omaha on Tuesday, adding to the grief and horror. The storm, which began shortly after midnight, and continued with gathering force, seriously hampered the work of rescue. More than three inches of snow covered the debris in the section of the city struck by the cyclone. It rendered uninhabitable the houses of many who had prepared to retain temporary homes in partly demolished structures.
Women tugging at heavy beams, hoping against hope to find dear ones beneath the wreckage, men gruffly cheering their sorrowful mates, sniveling children wrapped about with shawls and blankets were the scenes which the sunrise this morning disclosed to the federal soldiers as they patrolled the afflicted district.
Later, city officials gathered within the lines drawn around the district by the soldiers and distributed clothing and other necessities among the sufferers who had been rendered homeless by the tornado.
COUNTING THE COST
For the first time the people began to count the cost in lives and dollars. When a resumé was made it was apparently more appalling than those who had studied the result were willing to admit.
One hundred and fifty-four lives were snuffed out within the city proper. Nearly five hundred were injured and eight of these died in local hospitals during the day.
All Omaha rallied to the assistance of the desolate victims of the tornado. Hundreds of citizens responded promptly by offering their homes and money to aid in caring for the stricken.
The City Commissioners appropriated $75,000 for relief work, and citizens at once subscribed to an equal amount. Governor Morehead sent a special message to the Legislature asking for an appropriation to care for the homeless throughout the state.
"THE GREATEST CONCEIVABLE BLOW"
After making an inspection of the devastated district, the Governor said:
"This is my conception of hell. It is horrible, and it has presented a most complex situation. The loss of life and damage to property is the greatest conceivable blow, not only to Omaha, but to the entire state of Nebraska. I will call upon the state of Nebraska to render every assistance and I am sure the state will respond.
"My horror and grief are beyond my powers of expression."
SEARCHING FOR THE DEAD
Groups of men, aided and encouraged by women and children, labored incessantly all day Tuesday among the ruins of homes and other buildings. Only portions of the ruins of some buildings within which persons were known to have been killed were removed. As quickly as bodies were found they were taken to temporary morgues. Relatives claimed most of the bodies, but some remained unidentified. Funerals and burials were held from all churches and homes. Cemeteries were thronged with grieving friends and relatives.
Military law was strictly enforced throughout the storm area. Upon the soldiers rested the responsibility for looting and fires. The city Health Department made every effort to place the district in a sanitary condition as rapidly as possible. Garbage wagons and trash carts were the only vehicles admitted within the patrolled section. The water supply fortunately remained unimpaired.
A DAY OF FUNERALS
Another period of unseasonable cold followed Tuesday's snowstorm and increased the already long list of sufferers from the storm.
Paying last rites occupied the time of thousands of persons on Wednesday. Fifty-two funerals silently wending their way to cemeteries brought home with greater force to the people of Omaha the full realization of the extent of Sunday's tornado. All day long, as fast as hearses could deposit the bodies at graves, a continual death procession was kept up.
Many of the bodies recovered from Sunday's storm were cared for at undertaking establishments, and a great number of the funerals were held from those places. Whenever possible friends of stricken families took care of bodies and had them prepared for burial. In many instances churches were demolished in the districts covered by the storm and others were so badly wrecked as to prevent their being used for burial services.
There was little ceremony. As quickly as one funeral was over another began. Undertakers co-operated in arranging burials. In several instances where entire families were killed or where more than one member of a family awaited burial one funeral service was held. The funerals were a constant procession.
One of the most pitiful of the funerals was that of Mrs. Mary Rathkey and two small children. Surviving Mrs. Rathkey is the husband and father, who is nearly demented over the disaster. Mrs. Rathkey and her children were killed in their home.
MORE CASES OF DESTITUTION
Many cases of destitution were reported on Wednesday. It took much time to prepare card indexes of sufferers' wants and to make requisitions on the central relief station at the Auditorium for supplies. While these formalities were being carried out want stalked through disconsolate homes from one corner of the city to the other. The task of caring for those needing food, clothing, supplies and money seemed to be too large for the relief forces.
PLANS FOR REBUILDING
As early as Tuesday plans for rebuilding the city were under way. The business men formed a corporation to conduct the undertaking in a systematic way, and to assist the unfortunates who lost their homes and personal effects.
The Real Estate Exchange immediately took steps to prevent the raising of rents. Cases of alleged attempted extortion, however, were reported, some of them by members of the Exchange itself. Executives of that body decided to deal harshly with any owners found taking advantage of those forced to secure new homes on account of the tornado.
A public appeal sent out by the Commercial Club stated that 642 homes were totally wrecked, 1,669 were damaged and 3,179 persons made homeless. There was need of reconstruction, indeed!
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