"The Cyclone of Rye Cove"
Kingsport, Tennessee, Thursday, May 2, 1929
12 CHILDREN KNOWN KILLED
Twister Wrecks Rye Cove School
MORTALITY MAY REACH 25; INJURED ESTIMATED AT 90
A howling black cloud took the lives of over twenty children and one teacher and seriously injured as many more at Rye Cove High School, six miles northeast of Clinchport, Va., at 1 o'clock central time today when the building in which they were attending school was completely demolished.
The Rye Cove High School, which had a total enrollment of 250 students, was a seven-room frame, two-story structure on a limestone foundation and was located in an open field at the widening of a narrow valley.
The storm, which was seen approaching by several living witnesses, was not unlike any other severe shower and windstorm. Floyd Noblin, principal of the school and one of the injured, stated that he had just entered the building when the entire structure collapsed. He said that he could not describe what happened, but that he saw the storm approaching and hurried to the building to escape it. Soon after he entered he heard a crash and knew no
more until he found himself being pulled from the debris.
WINDSTORM UP VALLEY
Beginning about half-mile away down the valley from the school building, the storm began to demolish everything in its path. It uprooted many trees and carried away the roofs of several buildings. It grew more severe as it reached the open space. It grew by several dwellings, a store, and a church and the buildings in which the children and one teacher met their death. The home of J. D. Hill, which stood near the school was also completely blown away, but luckily all of the family were away from home and no lives were lost. The community store which was situated
several hundred yards from the school and run by J. B. Stone had its roof torn off and its entire stock flooded by the rain which followed the first blow.
A lumber pile near the school building was picked up as a whole, and pieces could be seen scattered for several hundred yards. Many of these were suspended in the branches of the few trees left standing.
Miss Elizabeth Richmond, a teacher in the high school grades in the school and herself injured, gave her version of the tragedy to a representative of The Times while waiting for an ambulance to take her to the relief train which was being filled with the injured children at Clinchport. She said "We had only started school after the mid-day recess when I noticed that a bad storm was coming up. It alarmed me, but I did not say anything to the children. The wind increased to a very high degree with a loud
howling noise and then the building collapsed with a smash. It was
probably only a few seconds between the time when I thought the building was in danger and the time it collapsed. I was on the second floor."
DEAD AND INJURED IN SURROUNDING BUILDINGS
The dead and injured children were carried to surrounding houses and barns as shortly after the collapse of the building as possible but the severe wind continued and the rain hampered the workers in their grim task. A tentative check-up of the dead and injured show the following dead as positively identified with several bodies yet to be claimed:
Bruce Cox, about 16 years old and the son of Beverly Cox of Gate City.
Alva Carter, a teacher in the primary department.
Polly Carter, about 17 years old, daughter of Miles Carter of near Gate
Callie Bishop, about 10 years old.
Avis Runyon, 16 years old of Hill, Va.
Monnie Fletcher, age about 14 and her sister, Bernice, about 8 years old.
James Carter, age about 14.
Lillian Lane, age 7.
Bertha Mae Darnell, age 12 years died on the way to the hospital on the relief train.
Bill Carter, one of the high school pupils and about 18 years of age was not expected to live nor was Evelyn Runyon whose sister was killed outright.
Many others whose names could not be determined were seriously
injured and were taken either in ambulances to Kingsport or Bristol. The Kings Mountain Hospital in Bristol was instructed to prepare for twenty-seven injured who were on the relief train. Many were taken to private homes in the vicinity.
Immediately the great twister had gone its way, leaving dead, wounded and desolation in its wake, and those in the vicinity of the school who were left alive and uninjured had recovered from the first shock, the relief work began.
The dead and dying children, some of them terribly mangled, and those less seriously injured were dragged from the debris, while automobiles carried the message of death to the outside world.
Doctors, nurses and ambulances were rushed in from Kingsport, a distance of 29 miles away, Gate City and Bristol. Among the first from Kingsport to reach the scene of the tragedy were undertakers and two ambulances from the local undertaking establishments of Hamlett and Dobson and J. Frank Nelson Funeral Home. Later ambulances arrived from Bristol.
In the meantime the small stores and frame residences of Rye Cove which had been left standing by the twister were converted into emergency hospitals and morgues. Makeshift beds were erected, bed clothes were provided and soon all the surrounding buildings were filled with the dead and injured children.
At Rye Cove the scene was one of utter wretchedness and desolation. Mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters were crowding about the emergency morgues, looking over the dead, still uncertain as to whether or not their own loved ones were numbered among the dead. Mothers were wringing their hands and crying out in their grief, while added to this were the pitiful wails of the little sufferers. Occasionally there would be the poignant cry of grief from a mother as she would recognize among the dead a son or
The road from Rye Cove to Clinchport, a distance of eight miles, and on into Gate City and Kingsport, became lined with vehicles bearing their gruesome burden of dead and injured children.
The relief work was terribly handicapped by the isolated location of Rye Cove. Most of the road from that place to Clinchport, eight miles away, the nearest point on the way to the hospitals and morgues of Bristol and Kingsport, is mud road, and the remainder is a narrow, twisting and very rough macadam construction. The mud became churned up by the stream of vehicles and ruts were ploughed. All of the cars were ploughing through this mud, attempting to pass each other, and hurrying to get the wounded to places where they could be given medical attention.
At the little village of Clinchport, a relief hospital train was held to receive injured. As fast as they could be rushed there they were placed on board and put in the hands of physicians. Shortly before six o'clock, this train pulled out for Bristol to take its pitiful freightage of little sufferers to the King's Mountain Memorial Hospital.
Seventeen boys and girls, some of whom were badly injured, were placed aboard the hospital train at Clinchport. Several of them were so badly injured that they were expected to die before reaching the hospital in Bristol.
One boy, of about 10 years of age, suffered a broken back, but the little fellow possessed a lot of nerve, saying "I am not hurt bad." Another boy had a leg cut off, while numerous other children were badly cut by the flying pieces of the structure as it crashed.
An ambulance also took a load of injured to Bristol. A girl was not too badly injured, but a boy was in a very bad state. He was unconscious when found and was bleeding profusely.
The scene at the station in Clinchport was very pathetic. Mothers crowded around as their children were loaded aboard the train. Cars and ambulances transported the injured down from the mountain location.
First aid was applied and several doctors were on hand to make the trip to Bristol as to provide adequate attention for the injured. Rescue workers were busy making the injured comfortable.
Some of the bodies were brought to Kingsport for burial preparation. Some of the injured were also brought to this city.
Kelly Carter, age 14.
Alva Carter, age 17.
Two Bishop girls.
Bruce Cox, age 18.
Monnie Fletcher, age 14.
Bernice Fletcher, age 8.
James Carter, age 14.
Lillian Lane, age 7.
Bertha Mae Darnell, age 12.