It was 5:35, Saturday afternoon, Dec. 5. The weather was warm and humid, and dusk had begun to fall. The downtown stores were closing, and the buses were filling with homebound clerks and secretaries. The theatres still held scores of youngsters indulging in the Saturday cowboy matinee. At the Happyland Nursery, the little tots were being fed and dressed for their working parents to pick them up on their way home. The 32,000 inhabitants of Vicksburg went calmly about their usual tasks.
Suddenly, from out of the west, roaring like 10 highballing freight trains, came a funnel-shaped swirling cloud—in the center, a tremendous vacuum capable of lifting the roofs from buildings, and, around the periphery, a screaming counterclockwise wind ranging an estimated 200 to 500 miles per hour. Crossing the Mississippi River and the Yazoo Canal, the storm hit the river front. The Union Cotton Compress warehouse turned to rubble, and 3,000 bales of cotton went up in smoke in the fire that followed. The Illinois Central Railroad roundhouse collapsed.