A photo displays the tragedy many families suffered after a tornado ripped through Helena in 1933. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)
A photo displays the tragedy many families suffered after a tornado ripped through Helena in 1933. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

Archived Story

Profile: Helena’s storm of the century

Published 2:12pm Monday, March 10, 2014

Tornado dramatically changed city’s development

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

The disaster was more than 80 years ago, but Eleanor Postell Paty still vividly recalls the night she was thrown from the second floor of her Helena house and into a nearby field.

In 1933, Paty, who was 13 at the time, did not have the luxury of a weather radio or a television broadcast telling her one of the city’s most significant disasters was on its way to her house in the wee hours of the morning.

“We were all at church that Sunday, and the preacher looked outside and said ‘It looks like a bad storm is coming, you all better go on home,’” Paty said. “And that was the only warning we had. There was nothing else telling us that we were going to have such a bad storm.”

Paty and her family had an uneasy feeling the rest of the afternoon, and went to sleep for the night before they were awoken by howling winds and driving rain.

“At about 3 a.m., my mother said ‘It looks like it’s about to get really bad,’ and we all gathered in my grandmother’s room, which was in the second floor,” Paty said. “The roof started blowing off, and they told me not to look up. But of course, being 13, I looked up. I caught the whole ceiling to my face.”

Being hit in the face was the last memory Paty had before waking up in a field about 25 feet away, still holding her brother’s hand. Of the six people who were in Paty’s house when the twister leveled it, all were able to walk away afterward.

“Out of everything in that house, all we were able to recover was a radio, a chair without legs and a table,” Paty said, noting she was treated for a gash in her cheek after being blown from the second story. “The doctor said if the piece of debris that hit my face had been just a fraction of an inch higher, I would have lost my eye. My God took care of us.”

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