1948’s ‘powerful tower of wind’ tore up roofs and tombstones alike

2019-11-14 10:11
Images from the New Hanover tornado in 1948.

Images from the New Hanover tornado in 1948.

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The last time a tornado tore through New Hanover was in 1948. In 2008, a church service was held to commemorate the event. At the service a witness to the impact of the tornado recalled what happened, and that account was recorded in a book celebrating the 150th anniversary of the New Hanover school and church.

The report read:

“Mr Claus Lütge, five years old at the time, and others, graphically described the events of that day, 23rd April 1948, using Power Point and family photos to show the devastation.

“Pastor and Mrs Lütge and their young family were at the centre of the destruction when the powerful tower of wind tore the roof off the Manse and hailstones the size of tennis balls rained down on them after the storm had passed. Fortunately, the Headmaster allowed the children to go home from school 15 minutes early and thus no children were caught out in the open when the tornado passed through at ten to three in the afternoon.

“Flying bricks and shards of glass caused injury to the Lütge family but miraculously no one was seriously hurt. Within moments neighbours, who had witnessed the elemental fury of the storm from their windows, were at hand to help as the tower roared towards the Scheuers’ farm.

“All around the church grounds resembled a warzone. The corrugated iron roof had been ripped off the church in 15 seconds; the alley of oaks, some 70-80 years old, lay uprooted and broken in wild chaos. In the cemetery 60 gravestones of iron and stone ripped from their bases, cracked and shattered, lay scattered about, a confusion of crosses and memorials.

“Once again the Congregation was obliged to dust itself off and knuckle down to the work of reconstruction. Rubble had to be cleared away, a new Manse built and the Church and part of the headmaster’s house re-roofed.

“Later, landscaping was undertaken, terraces were laid out and quick growing plane trees and shrubs were planted. This mammoth task was carried out with diligence and fortitude, characteristic of a congregation strong in faith.”

The tornado that struck New Hanover in 1948.

Volker recalls how community rallied to rebuild

Tuesday's tornado ignited memories for retired Valentin Volker, who lived through the last tornado in the area — 71 years ago.

Volker (87) was in high school and living in a hostel in Wartburg in 1948 when that tornado hit, and he remembered yesterday how the incident was the talk of the town.

He said the family home of a classmate of his was destroyed in the tornado. “I remember how the community really rallied together around them and built a new house for them.”

Volker, a former MPL who retired 15 years ago, said: “People were very shocked. It was completely out of the ordinary. There was substantial campaigning to collect funds for the house that was torn down.

“And now it happens again 71 years later. Maybe it happens every 71 years,” he quipped. — WR.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  kzn tornado
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