On Thursday September 10, 1896, a natural and meteorologic phenomenon of a never-before-seen size and violence occurs in the streets of Paris. This tornado – the first and last that ever hit Paris – will destroy everything in its path between the place Saint-Sulpice and the parc des Buttes-Chaumont and kill five people.
Violent thunderstorms have been hitting Paris and Île-de-France for several weeks, with a climax reached on July 26, 1896 with a very strong hailstorm hitting the Montsouris and Belleville districts, as well as the bois de Vincennes and the bois de Boulogne. The thunderstorm uproots trees, destroys flowerbeds, rip off roofs and breaks windows; tramways can no longer travel because of tree trunks on the road.
Two Parisians – an eleven-year-old girl and a woman in her twenties – are killed. The former in the collapse of a washing place in the 13th arrondissement, the latter from falling from the top of the fortifications at Porte d’Ivry. But what Parisians thought to be the climax of the summer 1896 bad weather was not reached yet.
On September 10, 1896, shortly before 3 p.m. Paris is once again hit by a thunderstorm that will quickly turn into something more terrifying and dramatic. In the heart of the 6th arrondissement, between the northern part of the Luxembourg garden and the Place Saint-Sulpice, a tornado takes shape in front of flabbergasted passersby.
With gusts of wind reaching up to 220km/h (8,202mph), this EF2 tornado on the Fujita scale moves in a straight line to the north of the capital city, across the 6th, 1st, 3rd, 10th and 19th arrondissements. It travels across the Place Saint-Sulpice, goes to the Quai des Grands-Augustins where trees are uprooted and bookstore-keepers’ books scattered away, crosses the Seine where several damaged barges eventually sunk, and reaches the West of the Ile de la Cité via the Pont-au-Change.
On the Right riverbank, the tornado is about 300-meter (984.25ft) wide and keeps on its devastating path to the place du Châtelet, taking care of ripping off the roof of the theatre, moves to the tour Saint-Jacques where it beheads a gargoyle, goes all the way up rue Réaumur, then rue de Turbigo, before reaching the place de la République. But it does not stop there!
It then moves to the Boulevard Saint-Martin, the Boulevard Magenta, then the canal Saint-Martin where a woman and her child are thrown into the water. The tornado eventually ends on Boulevard de la Villette, via the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont after it devastated a fun fair set not far from there.
In only 3 to 4 minutes, the column has travelled from South-West Paris to North-East Paris, covering 6.3 kilometers (3.914mi), blowing everything away. Chestnut trees, elms, and plane trees are broken, roofs and belvederes ripped off, an omnibus has been knocked over on the sidewalk because of the wind, like many hackney cabs.
But the material damages are not the only misfortunes reported: about 70 Parisians are severely injured and 5 people killed. They died of contusions and skull fractures including an English jockey called Eyears, and a 30-year-old coachman, Jean Portal, thrown away from his hackney cab, Léon Vanderhagle, a journalist crushed by a 300kg lead plank that fell down from a roof, or knocked over – depending on versions – on Boulevard Magenta, and Antoine Rouché, a five-year-old boy, carried away by the wind and thrown against the parapet of the Pont-au-Change.
The following day, the city throws a street cleaning session and unlocks 10,000 francs for the victims’ burials while newspapers take over the topic and collect statements from the witnesses. Headlines might have astounded many Parisians!
As a matter of fact, despite its violence, the tornado only hit a small part of the capital city. The Le Figaro newspaper shared their surprise on September 11, 1896’s edition: “The most peculiar is that meanwhile, in Montmartre, in the nineth arrondissement, on the Champs-Elysées, the Champ-de-Mars, no one was aware a terrible tornado was ravaging Paris. There was only rain. At four in the afternoon, the tornado was gone. The sky calmed down. The rain fully stopped”.
The tornado of September 10, 1896 is the one and only tornado known in the story of the French capital city, but also the only tornado in France to have hit an urban area from its formation to its dissipation.
75006 Paris 6
En-tête : RUE DES ARCHIVES/PVDE
Formation du cyclone, place Saint-Sulpice. Dessin d'après nature de MM. Mouligné et Redon
Les quais de Seine, après le passage de la trombe, gravure de Georges Redon
La tornade du 10 septembre 1896
Coupures de presse d'époque relatant l'évènement