Downtown Sarnia May 21, 1953 after F4 Tornado. Photo submitted by the City of Sarnia.

Tornado tears through Sarnia 66 years ago Tuesday

Tuesday, May 21 is the 66th anniversary of the tornado that devastated downtown Sarnia.

The tornado first touched down near Smiths Creek, Michigan, about 10 miles south of Port Huron, then smashed into the south edge of the city with F4 strength winds. Two people were killed and 10 more injured.

It then roared ashore at 6:45 p.m. at Ferry Dock Hill and smashed through the downtown area, damaging nearly a hundred commercial businesses.

The auditorium of the Imperial Theatre collapsed, and the Vendome Hotel and Taylor’s Furniture store sustained heavy damage.

More than 250 buildings were either destroyed or damaged and 38 residents were injured. One person in central Lambton died.

A history buff, Mayor Mike Bradley spoke of the event on its anniversary on Tuesday, saying it was a defining moment for a generation of Sarnians.

“In those days you didn’t have weather warnings, you didn’t have alerts,” said Bradley. “But what happened apparently was because the rain was so hard and the hail, it got everyone off the streets so people were indoors when it actually hit.”

Mayor Bradley said accounts of the event indicate the acting mayor of the day read the riot act by candlelight at city hall that night, but there were no reports of looting. And Michigan State Police helped police the streets of Sarnia in the storm’s aftermath.

-With files from Lee Michaels