Severe Weather Awareness Week: Tornado History

Posted at: 04/24/2014 5:33 PM
By: Justin Thompson-Gee

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- Thursday is day four of Severe Weather Awareness week and we examine one of the most devastating tornadoes to hit southeast Minnesota, and the top hospital that rose from the dust.

On August 21, 1883 a dangerous F-5 tornado struck the then small city of Rochester, MN. "If you look at the pictures of devastation, it was terrible," says Sister Generose Gervais of St. Marys.

"Rochester actually had over 24 deaths and 50 injured," comments Lisa Baldrus, the executive director of the Olmsted County History Center.

There were no hospitals at the time in Rochester but there were three doctors, Dr. William Mayo and his sons Will and Charlie, "they treated them at the local hotel which was still standing, says Baldrus.

"He made rounds of all the injured there...after a day or two Dr. Mayo suggested that they set up a temporary hospital at the dance hall," Sister Generose adds.

Mother Elfred of the Sisters of Saint Francis had suggested building a hospital in Rochester before the tornado, but Dr. Mayo had refused because of the high cost of construction.

After the devastation of Rochester's Great Tornado, Mother Elfred asked again, "they knew the need for the hospital and why we had to have it," says Baldrus.

"Mother Elfred said 'well if the sisters provide the money, will you take care of the patients?' and the story says for some unrecorded reason, he agreed," adds Sister Generose.

It took the sisters four years to raise $25,000 and in 1883 construction began. On September 30, 1889, St. Marys opened and Mayo Clinic had its first hospital.