In each of our lifetimes, there is usually one weather event that sticks out among other memories.
For many people in West Virginia, that day was in 1944, the most fatal severe weather event to roll through the Mountain State.
June 23rd, 1944 at 8:30 p.m., the Mountain State’s deadliest tornado ripped through Pleasant Hill in Shinnston.
More than 100 West Virginians died and hundreds more people were injured when an F-4 tornado with 170 mile-per-hour winds tracked from Marion into Randolph County, and drilled the small community of Shinnston.
Lifelong resident John Rice said not one family was unaffected by the tornado in the small Harrison County town.
Rice was almost six-years-old when it happened. He remembers the storm like it was yesterday.
“I remember that there was a barn that had a horse in it,” Rice shared. “The barn was gone and the horse was still standing there. They found people’s belongings in Morgantown. The wind and the river have taken them for a joyride to Morgantown.”
Even though there was physical damage, the storm shaped the fiber of the town for years to come.
Wanda Ashcraft, who was 11-years-old on that fateful June evening, said living through the storm taught her about community service, being a better person, and most importantly that anything can happen.
“Everyone said it will never happen in West Virginia because we have hills,” said Ashcraft, who is also a former Mayor of Shinnston. “People came from hundreds of miles just to see it. They realized that in one instant your life could be changed. Your family wiped out. Everything you own is gone.”
With everything gone, there was only one thing to do, rebuild and make this little community a bit stronger.
The Northern Panhandle was not spared on this day in 1944. The same system touched down in Wellsburg, in Brooke County unroofing 20 homes and fatally injuring a girl on a farm nearby, before heading across southwestern Pennsylvania and on to Shinnston.