According to the National Weather Service in Charleston, the “Shinnston Tornado” currently holds the title of the worst tornado in West Virginia. And it is No. 14 of the top 25 deadliest tornadoes in the United States.
NWS reports state that the funnel hit ground around 7 p.m. northeast of Shinnston near Wyatt in Harrison County. The tornado continued 40 miles through the Pleasant Hills section of Shinnston, into Flemington, Simpson, north of Philippi and into Montrose.
The storm then dissipated on Cheat Mountain northeast of Elkins at approximately 9 p.m.
“The town was never the same,” Martin said. “People were afraid, afraid of storms. Some just moved away. It really had an impact.”
Martin said those who stayed in Montrose could not shake the trauma left in the wake of the tornado.
“I don’t think people were happy again,” he said.
Even after all those years since the tragedy, some people, like Martin, say it was an event they will never forget.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” he said, noting that when the storm hit he was in Norfolk, Va., with the U.S. Navy. “When it happened, we were in World War II and I was in the Navy. I happened to be off that day and I read about it in the newspaper. I thought my home was in the middle of it.”
Martin took the newspaper to his superiors who put him on an immediate flight to Washington, D.C., where he then took a train to Oakland, Md.
“That is as close as I could get,” he said. Martin had to hitchhike back to Montrose the following day.
“It was hardly home,” he said. “Everything was flattened.”
Martin and his family were very fortunate. Although their barn blew away and all of the windows were broken out, their property was mainly intact. Not everyone else in the community was as lucky.
Seven people were killed and 12 others hospitalized due to injuries sustained in the tornado.
Martin recalled his father’s experience in the tornado. “My dad was giving a man a ride into Elkins and they both noticed that in the sky there was a dark cloud that had some redness to it,” he said. “When he was coming back, a building in front of him just blew away. So he decided he had better stop, but when he tried to he couldn’t. That is when he realized he was airborne.”
The tornado carried Martin’s father approximately 40 to 50 feet.
“He couldn’t go anywhere because there were debris and stuff all over the road. He was really terrified someone in the family was hurt, so he ran the rest of the way to the house, which was only a few hundred feet away,” Martin said.
After checking on the family, Martin’s father and a neighbor went out to look for victims of the tornado.
“They spent the night looking for people,” he said.
(The Inter-Mountain/Leah Deitz)
MONTROSE TODAY – Montrose is a small community that is the home of a community building, which provides Internet and computer access, as well as a small city park. The park used to be a place for baseball games, which were a big social event.