Blog: More about the July 1971 storm (8/10/21)

Last week’s blog provided the main story published in the Southeast Missourian concerning the fierce electrical and wind storm that blew through Southeast Missouri on July 15, 1971.

Mentioned in that article was some of the damage caused by the storm, including the destruction of a World War II hangar at the Cape Girardeau Municipal Airport and the unroofing of the historic covered bridge at Burfordville. These stories give more details.

Published July 15, 1971, in the Southeast Missourian:

Lightning struck Hangar 1 at the Cape Girardeau Municipal Airport July 15, 1971, causing a fire that destroyed the World War II-era structure. (Southeast Missourian archive)


The main aircraft hangar, a dozen planes and over $125,000 worth of aircraft parts, radio and electronic equipment and tools at the Cape Girardeau Municipal Airport went up in flames during an early morning fire caused by lightning.

Preliminary estimates of damage are at nearly a half million dollars. With the exception of most air4craft, none of the loss is covered by insurance.

A smaller storage hangar, built only seven years ago and located next to Hangar 1, which was hit by the lightning, was also heavily damaged.

The blaze quickly spread from the south corner of the hangar, engulfing the entire building before daybreak.

Fire Chief Carl J. Lewis said the hangar was completely overtaken by fire when they arrived. He said it would have been hopeless to try and fight the blaze. Instead, firemen sprayed water on a hangar east of the burning structure to prevent it from igniting.

“It was so far gone when we got there, you couldn’t even tell if there were any airplanes inside or not,” the chief said.

Only one aircraft was saved, said John E. Godwin, manager of Cape Central Airways, principal tenant at the airport. He placed value of the aircraft which were destroyed at over $250,000.

“There’s at least half that amount in parts, tools and electronic equipment,” he said. He estimated the hangar was worth $35,000 and the smaller hangar about $11,000.

The hangar which was destroyed is owned by the City of Cape Girardeau. The smaller hangar is owned by Cape Central Airways.

Only one of the six Cape Central aircraft which were destroyed was not covered by insurance. Mr. Godwin said it was a Piper Cub which had been wrecked. It is valued at $2,500.

Mr. Godwin said the one aircraft saved is a twin-engine King Air owned by Broadview Leasing of Cape Girardeau. Another twin-engine owned by Broadview, a Beechcraft Queen Air, was destroyed, however.

The lightning struck the roof of the hangar about 4:30 a.m. Mr. Godwin said a night clerk, Ralph Schnurbusch, was the only man on duty for Cape Central.

Mr. Schnurbusch said he heard lightning strike somewhere close and when he looked outside the terminal building, he saw “a bright glow on the south side of the hangar.”

He immediately rushed to the building, grabbed a fire extinguisher and tried to put it out. Mr. Godwin said, however, the flames were quickly spreading through the roof of the metal hangar and Mr. Schnurbusch could not get it under control.

He returned to the terminal building to call firemen, but Cape Central’s telephones were out. Mr. Schnurbusch then ran to the opposite end of the building and used a Federal Aviation Agency telephone to call the Cape Girardeau Fire Department.

He said by the time he arrived back at the hangar “the whole roof was on fire.”

Asked whether the buildings would be replaced, Mr. Godwin said, “We will try to move to another hangar so that we can continue our maintenance work until we reach some type of solution.”

The Cape Girardeau Airport Board was to meet for an emergency session at noon today. Airport officials said at the scene it was “doubtful” whether the city would rebuild the $35,000 hangar.

“I don’t know what we are going to do,” Mr. Godwin said despairingly, referring to a dozen employees who work inside the hangar and possibly could be facing temporary unemployment. “We have some fine people working here for us,” he added.

Besides the loss of Central Airways’ six planes, Mr. Godwin said the loss of all of Avicom’s equipment, a subsidiary avionics division of Cape Central Airways, is also “major.”

The Cape Central manager cited he following estimates of loss: aircraft, $250,000; equipment, parts and tools, at least $125,000; the hangar, $35,000, and the smaller storage hangar to the west of Hangar 1, $11,000.

The municipal airport owns only one firetruck. With one man on duty it was impossible, however, to use it when the fire broke out.

Chief Lewis said a total of five city firetrucks were sent to the airport. Firemen at Station No. 2 first responded, taking one truck, and additional help was requested at 4:43 a.m., Dispatcher Jerry Emerson said.

At 4:50 a.m., Emerson said three additional men were called into work so that they could stand by at main fire headquarters. A total of 12 men, including Chief Lewis, were at the scene.

Assistant Fire Chief Richard Mahy said five men were standing by at Station No. 1 so the city would not be unprotected.

Although there were five trucks at the scene, only two were used in the operation. The pumper from Station 1 was driven into a water-filled ditch alongside the roadway and it was practically impossible to see the road. It, however, was not needed, the chief said.

Workers prepare to pull the city’s pumper from a ditch into which it ran en route to the fire. Water across the roadway made it impossible for the driver to see. (Southeast Missourian archive)

It was pulled from the ditch, undamaged, about 6:45 a.m. Fire Department Mechanic Carrol Schaefer said water was out of ditches on both sides of the roadway and it was practically impossible to see the road.

Firemen remained at the scene most of the morning to prevent the spread of flames from smoldering debris.

When firemen first arrived, rainfall was extremely heavy.

“You would think with all that rain, it would help keep down the fire,” commented Mr. Schaefer, “but it didn’t help a bit.”

Chief Lewis said the two trucks were used to bring water from the Cape Girardeau Industrial Tract, north of the airport about a mile and a half. Mr. Mahy pointed out that the airport has no water supply, badly needed in cases such as this.

Owners and types of aircraft burned inside the hangar were:

  • Cape Central Airways, two Cessna 150s which were being disassembled and crated for shipment to Germany; two Cessna 182s, the Piper Cub, and a Cessna 206.
  • Jack Gremore and Gregory Hughes, a Luscombe single-engine.
  • Mid-South Steel Prod. Inc., twin-engine Beechcraft Queen Air.
  • Broadview Leasing, a twin-engine Cessna 310.
  • Dewitt and Vyron Harmon, a Cessna Skyhawk.
  • Paul Lampher, a Beechcraft Muskateer.
  • National Enterprises Inc., of Wichita, Kansas, an in-transit Piper Cherokee.

The fire was at least the fourth major blaze in the city’s aviation history — the third at Municipal Airport. A bolt of lightning in 1966, the same date as today, destroyed the No. 3 hangar along with eight aircraft inside. Total loss was put at $100,000. Five planes were saved from that blaze.

On Nov. 25, 2956, the Flight Control Building at the airport was destroyed by fire. At that time, it was the main administration building left from the World War II airfield.

Cape Central Airways lost all of its equipment except records and one radio. Subsequently air service and facilities were restored in temporary quarters in the hangar which burned today.

Most damaging was a blaze on Dec. 1, 1942. It destroyed 24 planes and the main building of the Consolidated School of Aviation. The school and field then were located where the R.B. Potashnick Construction Co., has its facilities on Highway 74.

Published July 15, 1971, in the Southeast Missourian:

A view toward the inside of the picturesque Burfordville covered bridge shows the storm took the cover off. The roof was removed by the force of the wind and side timbers were twisted by the force of the storm. Roofing and tree limbs block entry. The bridge was not heavily damaged as first announcements indicated. (Southeast Missourian archive)


The covered bridge in Burfordville Mill State Park at Burfordville, dating back to the late 1800s and now included in the National Register of Historic Places, was extensively damaged, and the Assembly of God Church in Jackson was destroyed by fire during a storm that ravaged much of Cape County early today.

Several mobile homes were overturned, barns destroyed and flash floods have been reported along creeks choked with several inches of rain that fell from 8 Wednesday night until 7 this morning.

The Burfordville Mill, constructed by George Frederick Bollinger before the Civil War, appeared to have escaped any major damage, but the park was a jungle of downed tree tops and limbs. (Actually, the bridge was constructed by Joseph Lansman for Bollinger. – Sharon)

The bridge was unroofed and its timbers twisted out of line. Pieces of the roof were found in trees surrounding the old structure, indicating winds of a tornadic velocity. While stone work was completed on the bridge before the Civil War, the bridge proper was not completed until after the war. It is one of the few remaining covered bridges in he state.

Main storm damage in Jackson, accompanied by 3.3 inches of rainfall, was to the Assembly of God Church, located on Highway 72 West, which was leveled by fire at 4:30.

Jackson Fire Chief Vernon Ladreiter said the fire was caused by lightning and that the blaze had engulfed the entire building before the fire was discovered. The church was constructed several years ago.

No other damage from high winds and lightning were reported by midmorning at Jackson.

Storm center

East of Burfordville, where storm damage was apparently centered, the mobile home of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Pinkerton was destroyed by the storm, and debris was reported scattered at least a quarter mile north to Highway 34.

Mr. Pinkerton, who is employed by a railway company, was away when the storm hit. Mrs. Pinkerton reportedly left the mobile home with her small son shortly before the trailer was demolished, taking refuge at a neighboring house.

The storm ripped the mobile home off its foundation and hurled it against a wooden barn, smashing and smattering its contents over a wide area.

At Millersville, the mobile home of Carl Whitner was overturned by winds but there were no injuries. The Whitners reportedly had gotten up to close windows only moments before the trailer flipped.

There were several other reports of damage to mobile homes in the Burfordville-Tilsit area, and some natural gas lines were reportedly disrupted by the storm.

Power and telephone lines are down throughout portions of Cape County, and supervisory personnel at Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. are attempting to repair the downed telephone lines. Regular telephone workers continue to honor Western Electric employees’ strike against the Bell system.

Block roads

Most rural roads were reported at least partially blocked by fallen tree limbs and power lines. The Cape County sheriff’s department said county and state highway department crews are working to clear rods. Trusties from the county jail at Jackson are also working on that project.

In the Tilsit community, west of Gordonville, large hail accompanied the storm. A number of trees were reported uprooted and many houses have roof damage and broken windows.

The storm struck that portion of the county at approximately 1:10 a.m. Damage to farm houses in that area include a barn n the Martin Sievers farm and a barn and machine shed on the John Siebert farm.

At 7:30 this morning Hubble Creek at Gordonville was reported overflowing and close t covering Route K. Between four and five inches of rain fell near Gordonville, and to the southwest of the small community.

Major damage was reported on several farms in the Gordonville-Tilsit area. Fred Whitson said a 50-foot radio tower on his farm had literally disappeared. The tower, which had a concrete anchor, was torn away during the storm and no pieces have yet been found.

Ted Rose and Sylvester Nothdurft, who both reside west of Gordonville, lost two barns and one barn, respectively. There was no report on damage to contents of the structures.

An after-effect of the storm will linger at Burfordville. The combined hail, lighting and high winds defoliated the town.

One report said the streets of Burfordville looked “like a massive salad this morning where hail had been spilled and where winds ripped leaves off trees.” One resident commented that the town will have 80% less shade the remainder of the summer.

Farm tractors were being used to haul large limbs and branches this morning, while Burfordville residents surveyed roof damage to their homes.

In the Tilsit community there was extensive damage to farm buildings and it was reported the community is covered with debris from roofs and trees which were damaged.

At the Alvin Kuntze farm the only property left standing was the family home. All barns and farm buildings were completely destroyed.

Marvin Oehl, Gene Bartles, Otto Kuntze and Marvin Aufdenburg also lost barns and other buildings on their property. Most of their homes were also damaged, but not to the extent of the farm buildings.

The Immanuel Lutheran Church at Tilsit lost the cross and other trim from the church spire, and tombstones in the church cemetery were blown over.

About half of the large old cedar trees surrounding Evangelical Church at Tilsit were blown over, but the state champion cedar tree, near the church, was not damaged.

Oak Ridge and Pocahontas both reported three inches of rain and high winds, but no major damage. Millersville received 4.25 inches of rain, also with strong winds. No damage was reported in the Millersville area, but electricity was off for a short time.

The degree of agricultural damage caused by the storm is being assessed today. The rain, though more than wanted was badly needed by area farmers.

Flooding and high winds in some areas, however, were expected to result in extensive damage to individual farm neighborhoods.

A week after the storm, the Missourian’s farm editor, Robert S. Todd, spoke to Marvin Aufdenberg of the Burfordville-Tilsit area about the damage done to his farm buildings and crops.

Published July 22, 1971, in the Southeast Missourian:

Michael Meyer, 17, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Meyer of Near Tilsit, perches atop farmhouse chimney as he takes a break from repairing the home damaged in last week’s storm that ravaged much of Southeast Missouri. (Southeast Missourian archive)



Missourian farm editor

“I can put the buildings back, but it will be another 13 to 15 months before I can harvest a crop of corn,” Marvin Aufdenberg of the Burfordville-Tilsit area commented Wednesday as he prepared to drag down a storm-damaged shed on his farm.

His comment seemed to typify the viewpoint of most people in the storm-ravaged community as cleanup and repair continued a week after the devastation.

Asked how repairs were going since the storm, Mr. Aufdenberg and others gloss over the damage to buildings, more concerned with the irretrievable losses to crops.

So far, cleanup and repair is going smoothly and rapidly in the area. The whole area was alive with the sound of chain saws, hammers and tractors Thursday morning and many columns of smoke rose where small branches and other debris was being burned.

To the outsider, it appears little repair has been accomplished in a week, but upon closer observation, new roofing appears on many houses, shiny new metal roofing stands out in sections of barn roofs, window panes still bear stickers indicating they were freshly installed.

Still, the extent of the damage was so great that vivid reminders of the storm will likely be around for some time.

“We had to think of the cattle first,” Mr. Aufdenberg said, describing what his family has done since the storm. “All our fences were down and the first thing we had to do was get the cattle in a safe place.

“Then we had to clean up the pastures before we could turn the cattle into them again. They were littered with sheet metal, lumber and nails — all sorts of things.”

With fencing temporarily repaired and pastures cleared of materials hazardous to cattle, the Aufdenbergs then had time to begin repair of buildings.

Mr. Aufdenberg named a half-dozen or so buildings on his land and the extent of damage to each of them. Some were repaired, others such as the shed he was working on at the time, appeared moderately sound yet, but were off their foundations and had to be torn down.

He had the shed propped up for safety while he prepared to hook a tractor to it and pull it on down. He said he probably would not replace the shed right away — not until there was a new crop in the fields.

“I had the best corn I’ve ever raised, and I’ve raised some that yielded near 140 bushels per acre,” Mr. Aufdenberg said. “Last year the blight got it.”

“We didn’t even get to pick any roasting ears out of it this year,” he laughed. Without a sense of humor, the loss might be unbearable.

Many in the area are still waiting for insurance adjusters before they begin repair on some of their buildings and in some cases the full extent of the damage isn’t even known.

Immanuel Lutheran Church, for instance, was believed to have been only slightly damaged at first. Closer inspection, however, revealed that the storm lifted the roof at one point and set it back down out of alignment. There are gaps at each side of the balcony now, indicating the walls shifted, too.

Some of the community now speculate that the damage to the church may turn out to be the largest single property loss resulting from the storm…

Repair activity was indeed buzzing in the community Thursday, but with virtually nothing left untouched by the storm, farmers are a long way from having things back in order.

“I’m not over the shock of it yet,” Alvin Maevers, another area farmer, said. He estimated his crop and property losses would probably exceed $10,000.

“Someone must have been looking after us,” he continued. “As terrible as it is, at least no one was hurt.”

As with Mr. Maevers, there is a thankful note in most folk’s voices when they talk about the storm. Bad as it was, indeed it could have been worse.

More photographs are in a gallery here.