How Easter Sunday turned into a day of utter destruction.

April 5, 1953, was Easter Sunday. Save for the rain, those who observed the holy day did so just as they had all the years before. But just after 6:00 p.m., as mothers were calling their families to the dinner table, disaster struck.

Out of nowhere, a sudden and violent windstorm materialised, catching everyone in its path by surprise. The swiftness with which it struck, the abruptness with which it disappeared and the severe damage it left behind led most people to say they’d never seen anything like it. Those who experienced the freak storm agreed that it came with a rushing or roaring noise, accompanied by torrential rain and heavy thunder and lightning. Witnesses said they saw a whirling wall of wind that picked up debris as it moved along. Louis Ray of Devonshire, told the Royal Gazette that he saw a cedar tree go up in the air “like a kite.”

In the aftermath, an official report was issued from the Bermuda Meteorological Station: “At 6:12 p.m. what was apparently a small depression, perhaps similar to a waterspout or tornado, passed over Hamilton. Pressure fell eight to nine millibars (about a quarter of an inch) and rose again within a period of one minute. There were two gusts of wind reaching 89 and 85 miles per hour, while the direction changed from south-east to north-east, and then suddenly swung back through south to westerly, and the wind decreased to about 15 m.p.h. The excessive wind lasted only a minute or less.”

Later on, it was determined that not one but four tornadoes were responsible. They carved four separate paths of destruction, smashing ninety buildings, most of them private homes. One person was killed, and the damage caused amounted to £18,808, which would equal close to $275,000 today.

Scores of homes lost their roofs, forcing many families to seek shelter with neighbours. Those with nowhere to go were placed in makeshift shelters or given tarpaulin and other relief equipment from the Social Welfare Board. Most of the damage was reported in the central parishes: Devonshire, Warwick and the City of Hamilton. The east and west ends of the island escaped the tornadoes altogether.
In Smith’s, one tornado passed through Harrington Hundreds and according to a report, knocked the roofs off three houses belonging to Leslie White. On the crest of the hill, it hit Malcolm Hollis Sr’s farm, blowing an estimated 400 chickens into Harrington Sound. Hollis’s home experienced roof damage and blown-out windows. He estimated that the damage cost him $5,000.

Two cars were reportedly blown into Harrington Sound. The driver of one, Sydney de Silva, was at the wheel of his father’s convertible taxi when he was swept away: “I was driving along when the wind hit me and I lost control of the car. The next thing I knew, the car was in the air with me in it. We landed on four wheels down on the water about 50 feet from the bank. It floated long enough for me to take off my shoes and jacket and swim ashore. The car then sank.” He noted that he would have stood little chance of survival had he been driving a closed car. Fields of Easter lilies and potatoes were destroyed, barns and pigsties levelled and dinghies smashed against the rocks.

The same tornado damaged a home in Bailey’s Bay. Tony Sousa was on the second floor when the tornado struck. It levelled the floor he was on, causing him to fall through to the lower story. Sousa was taken to the hospital for treatment of a double compound leg fracture as well as a broken collar bone. In the City of Hamilton, damage was extensive and crews from the Corporation, the Telephone Company and the Electric Light Company were immediately dispatched to clear fallen trees and repair phone and power lines.

Devastatingly, the unexpected tornado that ripped through Crawl caused the death of a young bride-to-be. Seventeeen-year-old Madeline Smith, daughter of Florence and Percy Smith, was struck in the head by debris as she fled her home. She was taken to the hospital by her mother but was pronounced dead on arrival. The Smiths and their seven other children had to seek shelter elsewhere as, tragically, their home was reduced to rubble.

On April 10th, five days after the tornadoes struck, the chairman of the Board of Works, the Hon. H. D. Butterfield stated in the House of Assembly that he had received a phone call from Governor Sir Alexander Hood requesting that he make a survey of the damage caused by the tornadoes with the view of assisting those in need with repairs. The governor requested that the estimate should be forwarded to The Lady Cubitt Compassionate Association so that they could determine who should be given government aid.
In addition to government’s assistance, private citizens took it upon themselves to fundraise for persons and organisations in need. In one such case, the Cobb’s Hill Methodist Church was reroofed thanks to the efforts of its congregation. In another, listeners of ZBM’s morning radio show Housewives Choice, donated $78 to Florence and Percy Smith to help them rebuild their family home.

Though the island has recorded several instances of tornadoes in the decades since, nothing can compare to the devastation experienced on Easter Sunday 1953.