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This is the first of a three part series focusing on the Delhi, LA-Inverness, MS F5 tornado of February 21, 1971. This summary explores the beginning of the twister in Louisiana up to the state border with Mississippi.

EF Scale Map

An extremely long-tracked and remarkably powerful tornado began at 3:08 pm CST, around 2.9 miles southeast of Delhi in northeastern Louisiana. Declassified Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) imagery from the KH-9 satellite system taken less than four months later on June 17, 1971, was instrumental in determining the whereabouts of the twister. It showed that within seconds the vortex was already significant (EF2+). A property along Cow Bayou Road might have been hit, but no details were found about this location.

It looked like a thousand hells.

Willie Young

Shredding through groves of trees and over Highway 80, the 650-yard-wide tornado reached great strength. “It looked like a thousand hells,” resident Willie Young recalled in The Shreveport Journal. Moving at 50-60 mph, it screamed toward an isolated residence and lashed out with the force of a conventional military airstrike. This spot was 1.5 miles NW of Waverly. Most of the details about the location were compiled from the February 25, 1971 edition of The Madison Journal, the February 22, 1971 edition of The Shreveport Journal, and various notices in other newspapers.

A ground level view in The Madison Journal of tree damage along Highway 80. Image from newspapers.com.

Amidst the yet ungrown cotton and soybean fields, Cleveland Lenore Sr., 47, was a farmer who resided on this land. His large family consisted of wife Ella Lenore, 42, and children Cleveland Lenore Jr., 20; Verda Carter, 18; Danny Lenore, 17; Ronnie Lenore, 14; Doris Lenore, 13; Dennis Lenore, 12; Terry Lenore, 9; Patrick Lenore, 8; Patricia Lenore, 8; Reginald Evans, 3; Phyllis Lenore, 3; and grandchild Orlando Carter, 21 days.

That afternoon, Cleveland Sr., Cleveland Jr., and Ronnie were away visiting friends. That left eleven members of the clan at home.

In a moment, the house was gone, lofted and broken into tiny fragments. Light ground scouring occurred; trees were completely delimbed and heavily debarked; and a combine, dragline, and cars were crushed, torn up, and thrown about. Danny was the sole survivor inside that structure. He was transported to Vicksburg Hospital with a broken back.

A photo in The Madison Journal showing utter devastation on the Lenore property. Image from newspapers.com.
A photo in The Monroe News Star showing vehicular destruction at the Lenore property. Image from newspapers.com.
Another angle in The Morning Call of a flipped car on the property. Image from newspapers.com.
A photo in The Madison Journal showing a tossed combine on the property. Image from newspapers.com.

Five of the deceased were located that same afternoon across a body of water more than 150 yards away. A large operation was undertaken to find the remaining bodies in a bayou about 70 yards from the home. This was across the road and through a line of trees. Bulldozers pushed into the area, and divers and dragging boats combed the location. The body of Dennis floated to the surface on the 24th, but the others were elusive.

A photo from The Madison Journal showing members of the Tallulah Fire Department searching for bodies in the bayou. Image from newspapers.com.

Recovery efforts continued for five days before being called off. According to The Town Talk, a week later on March 5th, Verdi, Doris, and Phyllis were spotted, having floated to the surface. It was not until precisely three weeks after the tornado, on March 14th, that a passerby discovered the remains of young Patrick in the water.

This truly devastating story did not end entirely in tragedy. Cleveland Sr. lived to a very old age. Danny, Cleveland Jr., and Ronnie grew up and forged their own paths. We will not mention any details for the sake of their privacy, but their family name continues to be passed down through new generations.

One mile northeast of the Lenores, the Zion Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on Joe’s Bayou Road was flattened. The Madison Journal, in a February 25, 1971 article, reported that members had left their Sunday service only 30 minutes beforehand. A photo in that same piece showed a nearby steel transmission tower that was blown down.

A photo in The Madison Journal of the remains of Zion Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church. Image from newspapers.com.
A photo in The Madison Journal of a nearby steel transmission tower that was downed. Image from newspapers.com.

The tornado swung through more fields for three miles. Old aerial photos indicated that a few residences and outbuildings were likely affected, though no details could be found. A 1.8-mile scar then appeared through a large tree farm. A structure or two could have been hit along Panther Road before the tornado moved into East Carroll Parish, 9.2 miles east of Warden. Only four homes were reported destroyed in Madison Parish, with all ten fatalities just from the Lenore household.

For 8.6 miles, the twister moved over open fields devoid of inhabitants or large vegetation. It was only upon nearing Foster Road, 4.5 miles SSW of Transylvania, that people were again in the path. According to the February 25, 1971, East Carroll Delta News, the Melvin Rushing house was unroofed. A 2×6 piece of wood was propelled into the adjacent Joe Foster homestead, “completely severing into a mattress on the bed.” Soon after, Bob McGlawn’s dwelling on Dawson Road was destroyed by the 900-yard (0.51 mile) wide vortex.

The greatest destruction in the vicinity of Transylvania was along Pecan Road, 2.6 miles south of town. Locally, this area was known as Melbourne. Per the East Carroll Delta News article mentioned above, members of the Fortenberry family received non-serious injuries when their home was destroyed. The Banner Democrat stated in a February 26, 1971 article, that two of their 2-row cotton pickers, each worth about $25,000 ($175,000 in 2022), were wrapped around a tree. Mrs. R. C. Hart’s residence was lost, though fortunately, she was not home. More details from one of the Fortenberry family survivors can be found in the Facebook comment shown below.

A Facebook comment from survivor Ellen Fortenberry on a NWS Jackson anniversary post detailing her family's story. We were not able to reach her.

Another family of Harts lived on this road. They consisted of Walter, his wife Janice, brother George, and daughter Felicia. Janice stated that she “didn’t realize it was a tornado until the wind had blown the house away and left us on the concrete slab where we were huddled near the refrigerator. We had squatted down by the refrigerator after we saw the cotton pickers, light poles, and our car being blown away.” She and her husband were hospitalized with severe cuts, abrasions, and bruises. Trailers belonging to Mrs. George Dacus and A.B. Haddox were also totaled.

A photo in the East Carroll Delta News of the Haddox mobile home. Image from newspapers.com.

A large pecan grove filled the northwest corner of the Pecan Road and Highway 65 intersection. Roughly half of these expensive trees were “uprooted, twisted, and broken.” Virtually none survived within the direct path. In the middle of the crop was the new, 8-room brick-built house of Ruddell and Pauline Mobley, which was reduced to interior rooms. A photo caption in the East Carroll Delta News explained, “both he and his wife Pauline are of the opinion that the giant pecan tree on the housetop at right very likely saved their lives.” This image can be seen below. Another woman named Hoover Stafford (who had come in to use their phone) also survived there without serious injury.

A photo in the East Carroll Delta News of the Mobley house. Image from newspapers.com.

The funnel swung out of the northeast edge of the trees and into Highway 65. James Bowlin’s home fared no better than that of the Mobleys. Two vehicles were caught on the road. A pickup truck containing Perrilyn Moore, Andrea Thornton, and her son was rolled over several times.

A photo in the East Carroll Delta News of the Bowlin home. Image from newspapers.com.

The other car belonged to the Patricks, which was flipped over and battered. Per the East Carroll Delta News, “The driver had lacerations on his head, his wife’s leg was hurt and their five-year-old son, Andre, was still under observation Tuesday at East Carroll Hospital. Another son, Gregory, 6, was not hurt.” The March 4th edition of this paper credited the Shepherds family with first aiding the Patricks, and James and Myrtle Ruth with transporting them to the hospital.

From here, the tornado raced across the Mississippi River. It crossed back onto land two miles east of Transylvania. About 4.8 miles were spent on an almost uninhabited peninsula before re-entering the waters. During this time, tree damage was noticeably weaker than before. Around 3:40 pm, the twister trudged across the river again and entered Issaquena County in far western Mississippi.

In East Carroll Parish, seven site-built houses and two mobile homes were completely destroyed. An additional 13 dwellings and a handful of outbuildings were noticeably damaged. Twelve injuries and $500,000 in damage were recorded. In Mississippi, however, the tornado would soon cause destruction on a vastly greater scale.

Part two coming soon!

Sources:

The Storm Prediction Center

February 1971 Storm Data Publication

Grazulis, T.P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes, 1680-1991. St. Johnsbury, Vt: The Tornado Project Of Environmental Films. Page 1121.

NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-Madison Parish

NCDC Storm Events Database Entry-East Carroll Parish

Google Earth

USGS

Find A Grave

Ancestry

Newspapers.com

“Mississippi Delta Tornadoes of February 21, 1971; a Report to the Administrator.” n.d. Repository.library.noaa.gov.

Daily World 01 Mar 1971, page Page 2. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

East Carroll Delta News 25 Feb 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

East Carroll Delta News 04 Mar 1971, page 2. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Banner-Democrat 26 Feb 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Banner-Democrat 07 Jan 1972, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Cottonport Leader 24 Feb 1972, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Crowley Post-Signal 23 Feb 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Daily Advertiser 22 Feb 1971, page 5. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Delta Democrat-Times 24 Feb 1971, page Page 16. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Madison Journal 25 Feb 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Madison Journal 25 Feb 1971, page 4. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Madison Journal 04 Mar 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Madison Journal 18 Mar 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Monroe News-Star 22 Feb 1971, page Page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Monroe News-Star 24 Feb 1971, page Page 12. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Richland Beacon-News 27 Feb 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Shreveport Journal 22 Feb 1971, page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Times 23 Feb 1971, page Page 5. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Times 25 Feb 1971, page Page 31. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Town Talk 22 Feb 1971, page Page 1. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

The Town Talk 06 Mar 1971, page Page 2. (n.d.). Newspapers.com.

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