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Scott County Historical Society
Scott County, Virginia

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"The Cyclone of Rye Cove"

Scott County Herald
May 9 1829

Scott County Herald

Gate City, Virginia, Thursday, May 9, 1929


More Than Fifty Seriously Injured; 40 Taken to Kings Mountain Memorial Hospital on Special Train. Without Warning Twister Swoops Down and Leaves Death, Sorrow And Desolation in Its Path Of Four Miles.
Forming suddenly from what appeared to be an ordinary thunder cloud, and moving with great velocity, a tornado swooped down upon the beautiful Rye Cove section of Scott County Thursday at one o'clock, completely demolishing the High School building in which were about 150 pupils and teachers, killing twelve children and one teacher and wounding seriously more than fifty others. 
The tornado after leaving wreck and ruin at this point continued in a northeasternly direction, razing dwellings, barns, 
mills and all else in its path for a distance of about four miles, the average width of its path being about one quarter of a mile.

Ava Carter, 24, teacher, daughter of Hughey Carter of Cove Creek.
Bruce Cox, 18, son of Mr. and Mrs. B.B. Cox of Gate City.
Polly Carter, age 18, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Miles Carter of Rye Cove. 
Monnie Fletcher, 14, and Bernice, 8, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Issac 
Fletcher of Rye Cove.
James Carter, 14, son if Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Carter of Rye Cove.
Bertha Mae Darnell, 12, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Trigg Darnell of Rye 
Emma Lane, 6, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. A. C. Lane of Rye Cove.
Callie Bishop, 10, Monnie, age 8, daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Grant Bishop 
of Cove Creek.
Lillie Lee Carter, daughter of J.E. Carter.
Millie Stone, 18, daughter of Mr. And Mrs. E. H. Stone.
Guy Davidson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Davidson.

Those who received severe injuries and were rushed to hospitals by special trains and ambulances were the following:

To Kings Mountain Memorial Hospital at Bristol, Virginia: Janie Taylor, Willa Jessee, Vane Hill, Mable McDavid, Lucy Jones, Dorthy Carter, Myrtle Morrison, Hannah Darnell, Sallie Freeman, Rufus Rollins, Maurice Clendenen, Henry Mitchell, Della Bishop, Bernice Taylor, Myrtle Taylor, May Freeman, Ethel Lane, Majorie Carter, Belvia Rhoton, Garland Stone, Jackson Freeman, Ray Stone, Roy Jessee, Willard Taylor, Clint Green, J. E. Fugate, Claude Carter, Elizabeth Richmond, Evelyn Runyon, Parce Lee Hill, 
Margaret Mitchell, Nannie Owen, Millie Carter, Raymond Carter, James Morrison, Hayte Lane, Charlie Morrison, and Charles Flanery.

To Kingsport Hospital: Ray Osborne, Birgill Carter, Bernice Taylor, Ryland McDavid, 10, son of Robert McDavid of Rye Cove; Leonard Green, 14, son of H. C. Greene of Rye Cove; Kyle Morrison, son of Lonnie Morrison of Rye Cove; Rosa Lee Darnell, daughter of Hugh Darnell, of Rye Cove; Effie Flanary, 22, daughter of Creed Flanary of Clinchport; Bill Carter, 17, son of George Carter of Clinchport.

In addition to those named above who were either killed or severely injured fully one hundred other children suffered minor injuries, and were cared for in their homes by local doctors and the Red Cross.

A short distance from the school building, and within the tornado's path stood a heavy log dwelling with double stack stone chimney that was erected more than three quarters of a century ago. The terrific force of the storm swept it away as completely, as if it had been built of straw, carrying some of the furniture four miles away. The family of Haskel Hill who occupied the building were away from home at the time it occurred.

A stone spring-house was torn to pieces as if it were made of sticks. Rocks that weighed more than a thousand pounds were overturned.

As described by W. J. Rollins, who witnessed the destruction of the school house from his home about a mile away, the tornado formed from another storm cloud moving northward, and suddenly developing great force and traveling with a speed that made the elements tremble, it began to move directly up the valley in which the school house was located. He said that it appeared to be a great funnel hurling itself though the air and bearing in front a kind of headlight.

When it struck, the building seemed to rise into the air and then explode, declared the witness, scattering debris, lumber, benches over the surrounding country. After the explosion, he said, the elements seemed to settle down over the scene and it became dark as night. Beneath the mass of ruins lay more than a dozen dead, while the shrieks of the dying and wounded added horror to the already horrible scene.

The body of Miss Ava Carter, 24, school teacher, was found 75 yards from where the school stood. She was inside the building then the twister struck. Miss Carter's home was at Cove Creek. She graduated from Radford, Va., State Teachers College.

Body of Polly Carter, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Miles Carter of Rye Cove was carried fifty yards.
Eight other bodies were recovered from the ruins of the building within an hour after the twister struck.

The school served a radius of approximately seven miles and was the fourth largest in the county. W.D. Smith, superintendent of schools of Scott county, Va., was at the scene within an hour after the twister struck. He was grief-stricken over the tragedy and was rendering all possible aid. 
Roll of the school was destroyed, Professor Smith said. Because many of the children live such a distance the final check of injured will necessarily have to be made from queries that will come from parents of the children.

The whole scene was one of pitiful desolation. Anxious fathers worked feverishly in the ruins, fearful of what they might discover. Anxiety of parents was intense because nearly all the injured children were started by automobile to hospitals before the parents arrived. Sobbing mothers, frantic with fear, sought information. 

Mrs. Mary Darnell, mother of two girls who were in the building, could not learn of her children until more than four hours after the building was demolished. She broke down when she was told that Bertha Mae Darnell had died enroute to Clinchport, and that her other daughter, Hattie could not be found.

Strong shouldered mountain residents plied at the wreckage, seeking traces of those known to be missing.

Doctors were summoned from Bristol, Kingsport, Gate City, Appalachia, Big Stone Gap, and other communities. A passenger train was held at Clinchport, seven miles away, to take the injured to Bristol. Automobiles rushed the injured to Clinchport where doctors began their work. It was 5:30 o'clock before the last known injured child was taken to Clinchport and the train started toward Bristol. Approximately 15 of the more seriously injured were rushed to Kingsport and Bristol by ambulance before 
the train started. Forty injured was sent by train to Bristol. Nine were in the hospitals at Kingsport.

Doctors W. R. Rogers, E. D. Rollins and three ambulances and five nurses from King's Mountain Memorial Hospital went to Clinchport.

The tornado spent itself about four miles farther up the valley after destroying a flour mill belonging to George Carter, in which both himself and his son, John Edgar, were seriously injured, a dwelling house owned by Henry Johnson, and one belonging to Barb Starnes, and two barns belonging to Ballard Carter.


A. S. Noblin Was Carried From Hall of Building 75 Feet Away.
A vivid word picture of the tornado that last Thursday killed at least 13 and injured upwards of 100 when it demolished the Rye Cove school in Scott County, Va., and leveled houses and buildings in its four-mile path through the mountain country, was told by A. S. Noblin, principal of the school, and others.

"I was walking through the hall when I saw what looked like a whirlwind coming up the hollow," Noblin declared. "Trees were swaying. As it neared the school building it became a black cloud, it appearing as though a tremendous amount of dirt had been gathered."
"I think I yelled. It struck the building. The next thing I remembered I was standing knee deep in a pond 75 feet from where the building stood before it was demolished.
"There were about 155 children in the school which serves a radius of approximately seven miles." 
Noblin is a graduate of William and Mary and a nephew of W. D. Smith, Scott County superintendent of schools. Noblin was painfully bruised and lacerated. 
John Runyon, 17, a student, said he saw the trees swaying while he was standing with a teacher, Elizabeth Richmond, in one of the classrooms. "It just picked up the school house," he declared. "The next thing I knew I had about half of it on me and was trying to dig out." Runyon's head was badly lacerated.


A genuine desire to help those in distress has been portrayed in the recent Rye Cove disaster by the people generally of Bristol. When havoc was wrought by the recent tornado that completely destroyed high school building at that place, killing 13 children and seriously injuring more than fifty others, Bristol city turned with a united effort to help relieve the suffering that resulted from the terrible calamity. Throwing open her Hospital for the relief of the suffering, sending her doctors and 
nurses immediately to the scene of sorrow, and giving an urgent invitation to dozens of sufferers to come to private homes where they would receive the best possible care, the people of Bristol have forever endeared themselves in the hearts of the citizens of Rye Cove and the entire community. Unsolicited financial assistance amounting to several thousand dollars was offered by voluntary contributors to those in distress as a result of the storm. Food, clothing, and every comfort possible has been provided without limit to all who would accept it.

Hotel Bristol threw open all available space, and invited any and all who would to share their hospitality free of charge. For this act of sympathy shown, the manager, Mr. Barnhill, will be remembered with gratitude by the surrounding country. Calamities like this provide an opportunity for individuals, for cities, and even larger areas to show their regard for humanity in times of distress and it must be said to credit of Bristol city that she has made haste to take advantage of the opportunity to show that above any pecuniary gain stood the welfare of mankind.


To Be Held at the Court House Sunday Afternoon At 2:30 O'clock. 
Memorial service will be held at the court house Sunday afternoon, May 12, at 2:30 o'clock, for those who lost their lives in the Rye Cove disaster, and to make prayer for the recovery of the injured. Special arrangements made for good singing. Some voices from Bristol and Kingsport will be added to our local choirs. A prominent Bristol pastor will be one of the speakers. It is hoped that all the families who are bereaved can come.
Mr. and Mrs. J. D. Bledsoe and Miss Kate Gillenwater attended the funeral of Miss Millie Stone Sunday.


Impressive Funeral Services Held For Bruce Cox and Polly Carter Saturday at Baptist Church

An impressive double funeral service was held at the Baptist Church in Gate City Saturday morning a eleven o'clock for Bruce Cox, son of Mr. and Mrs. B. B. Cox of this city, and Polly Carter, daughter of Miles Carter of Rye Cove, both of whom were Rye Cove high school students who lost their lives in the tornado disaster that swept the section last Thursday at one o'clock.

The large crowd of sorrowing friends filled the church to overflowing, more than one half the crowd being unable to gain entrance who sought to pay respect to the unfortunate victims of the terrible tragedy. The services were conducted by Rev. J. B. Craft assisted by Revs. King and Winslow, after which interment was held for Polly Carter in the cemetery near the home of Mrs. Creed Frazier, and for Bruce Cox at the Rye Cove cemetery near the home of his grand parents.


$3,000.00 Appropriated By Scott County Board To Be Used In Rye Cove Disaster
The Scott County Board of Supervisors met at the court house in Gate City Monday. The first thing taken up was the caatastrophe that took place at Rye Cove, Scott County, Virginia, on May 2nd, in which the Rye Cove High School building was completely demolished by a furious tornado, and many homes were destroyed. Twelve children and one teacher lost their lives and fifty were seriously injured.
The Board made an appropriation of $3,000.00 to be used in connection with relief work and appointed the following committee to supervise the expenditure of the money, make reports to the Board and solicit, or accept donations from any people living within or outside of the county or state who may wish to aid in the relief work.
The committee appointed was:
Judge E. T. Carter
Prof. W. D. Smith
Mr. I. P. Kane.

We wish to commend the Board for the action taken and express our approval both of the committee appointed and the further order of the Board that proper resolutions be prepared expressing the deep appreciation of the people of Scott County to those people without and within the county who have so worthily aided at the scene of the disaster and elsewhere.

Physicians and nurses, ambulance owners and automobile owners, and the Southern Railway Co., all aided in a wonderful way to care for the injured and transport them to hospitals for treatment.

The King's Mountain Memorial Hospital of Bristol deserves special mention for the liberal and efficient services rendered. Both the General Hospital and Marsh Clinic of Kingsport rendered timely and serviceable. . .