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200 mph winds, 7 deaths; the day a tornado attacked Port Richmond and Camden

What might have been the region's strongest and deadliest tornado struck on this date in 1885.

The steamer Major Reybold is shown at its wharf in Salem in this 19th Century post card.
The steamer Major Reybold is shown at its wharf in Salem in this 19th Century post card.Read morePost Card / Clinton Bowen

The steamer Major Reybold left the Arch Street wharf at 3 p.m. on Aug. 3, 1885 for its daily trip to Pennsgrove and Salem.

It never got there. Along the way, it was destroyed in an encounter with a horrific storm that ultimately criss-crossed the Delaware River, causing tremendous damage in Camden and Port Richmond.

What ripped apart the steamer was a rare F3 tornado, according to the National Weather Service, which would have packed peak winds up to 206 mph.

The twister crossed the river near what is now the Walt Whitman Bridge into Camden, skipped along the banks of the Jersey side, then moved back to Philadelphia at Port Richmond.

"Port Richmond," the Inquirer wrote, "all along the track of the tornado, presented a dreary, devastated, and disheartening appearance."

(You'll note that we didn't have a big photo staff back then.)

"The cyclone moved in an uncertain path," the paper reported, "and disappeared as mysteriously as it came."

Based on one record, it appears the storm — if not the tornado itself — caused damage further south at Fort Delaware where a fort official reported that "The hospital now is ruined."

In today's dollars, the estimated damage in Philadelphia and Camden would come to about $12 million, which would be quite a price tag for a storm of such limited geographic coverage.

Other tornadoes, believed to be F2s with top winds up to 157 mph were reported in Bucks and Cheser Counties and in Maryland and Delaware.

Fortunately nothing like that is in the offing Thursday, although more of those pop-up showers are possible in the afternoon.

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