Super Outbreak – The Day Hell Came to Earth
April 3, 1974
148 tornadoes, 6 F5s, 24 F4s, 9 towns obliterated and a day the nation would never forget.
As March turned to April, 1974, a powerful mid-latitude cyclone began to dig southward from Canada. The jet stream was roaring through the rapidly deepening trough. An intense low level jet funneled moisture into the system, causing rapid destabilization ahead of the cold front. With the strong upper level jet stream, huge temperature and pressure gradients along a strong frontal boundary and a steady inflow of moisture across the region, it was the perfect storm. National Weather Service meteorologists knew they were looking at the outbreak of the year, maybe the decade, but what they got was the outbreak of the century. It took the sky just 15 hours to lay waste to the Ohio River Valley and the heart of Dixie. When the dust settled, over 300 people were dead and nine towns and communities lay in ruins across twelve states. In a single day, 148 tornadoes touched down, including six F5s, 24 F4s and 34 F3s. All six F5s touched down within a seven hour period. This excludes the second Tanner tornado, a strong F4 that may have been an F5. That equals or exceeds the total number of F5s for the previous seven years, and only that few thanks to the four in 1968. The total number of violent tornadoes, 30, is more than any other whole year on record except for 1965 (31)…and all of them touched down within nine hours of each other.
Depauw, Indiana – 3:20 pm
The first of 30 violent tornadoes that day, the Depauw tornado was a massive, long-track F5 tornado. It moved through mostly rural areas of southern Indiana, devastating several small communities. All but ten homes in Martinsburg were demolished. Several homes near Depauw were obliterated; swept to their foundations in a classic example of F5 damage. The towns of Palmyra & Borden were also heavily damaged as were several other communities. The Depauw storm was a massive wedge tornado, a mile and a half wide at its peak, making it the largest tornado of the outbreak. Six people were killed along its 68 mile track. Despite its power, it would soon be eclipsed by the epic tornado disasters that were soon to follow.
Xenia, Ohio – 3:40 pm
Just twenty minutes after the Depauw tornado touched down, the town of Xenia, Ohio, a few miles southeast of Dayton, was ravaged by one of the most devastating tornadoes in history. A powerful, F5 half a mile wide tore through the heart of the city. The destruction was absolute. 1400 buildings were completely destroyed. Entire subdivisions were laid to waste. Large, strong, masonry structures were reduced to rubble. A freight train moving through the city was picked up and thrown from the tracks like a toy. Xenia High School, an enormous, two story brick building, was completely destroyed. Several students rode the storm out in the basement of the auditorium. Fortunately, no one at the school was killed. Nearby Wilberforce University was also severely damaged. 32 people were killed and half the city was destroyed. The day’s events, however, were only just beginning.
Kennard, Indiana – 4:00 pm
Meanwhile, a handful of small but intense cells began moving across central Indiana. This tornado touched down in Blue River Township and began a jagged path to the northeast, slowly gaining strength. As it approached Knightstown, it veered more to the north. It slammed into Grant City, doing severe damage. The town was virtually destroyed. Then it ripped through the east side of Kennard as an F4, to devastating effect. 70% of the town was heavily damaged or destroyed. Fortunately, only one person was killed and just 17 injured.
Hamburg, Indiana – 4:01 pm
To the south, another supercell was rattling off a series of progressively more powerful tornadoes, including an F3 that caused heavy damage to rural areas west of Brownstown. It culminated in a massive F4 that formed just south of Grammer and moved northeast into open country. It passed just northwest of New Point, hitting the village of Mechanicsburg, where it killed two people and did heavy damage. Then, passing into rural Franklin County, it slammed into the small town of Hamburg, which was all but obliterated. 90% of the town was heavily damaged or destroyed. Thankfully, just two people were killed and ten injured.
Hanover, Indiana – 4:19 pm
One hour after Depauw, the same supercell spawned another powerful twister. The F4 tornado ripped through the towns of Hanover and Madison, causing incredible devastation. 90% of Hanover was destroyed or severely damaged. Over 300 homes in Madison were demolished. Hanover College was ravaged. Only one of the campus’ 33 buildings escaped significant damage and two were completely destroyed with another six suffering major damage. Damage to the college alone was estimated at $10 million. Eleven people were killed and over 300 more were injured. And this supercell was far from finished.
Brandenburg, Kentucky – 4:20 pm
The third F5 in barely an hour, this one would devastate the Ohio River town of Brandenburg. Forming over a lightly populated area of western Kentucky, the Brandenburg tornado first visited the town of Hardinsburg well to the south, doing F3 damage there. The tornado intensified as it moved through Meade County toward the Ohio River. It slammed into Midway as a F4, causing heavy damage in the town. Unfortunately, there was no time to warn the citizens of Brandenburg that the tornado was headed straight for them. The twister slammed into Brandenburg as an F5, causing incredible destruction. Most of the town was obliterated. 128 homes were in ruins. The town’s residents had no idea what hit them. 18 people died on a single block of Green Street. Another 13 died in the tornado.
Parker City, Indiana – 4:35 pm
Ten minutes after Brandenburg, back in central Indiana, another tornado touched down southwest of Blountsville and moved northeastward. Entering Stony Creek Township as a monstrous, mile-wide F4, it tore through neighborhoods between Parker City and Farmland, ripping apart numerous homes. The tornado slammed into Monroe Central School, destroying almost the entire complex. Fortunately, school had let out and the buildings were mostly empty. One person did die in the tornado and 12 were injured.
Bear Branch, Indiana – 4:40 pm
Right after the Hanover-Madison tornado lifted, the same supercell produced another violent tornado. This one touched down in Milton Township in rural Jefferson County near the village of Manville. Moving quickly into Switzerland County as an F4, it flattened homes near Bennington and Fairview. It then ripped through the small town of Bear Branch, obliterating a church as well as several homes. No one was killed but over 100 were injured.
Caneyville, Kentucky – 4:00 pm (CT)
As the clock hit Happy Hour in the east, the activity began to shift further south. This tornado marked the beginning of the second phase of the outbreak. It formed in rural west-central Kentucky southwest of Caneyville and strengthened very quickly. It demolished several homes south of Caneyville, including one that was completely leveled, giving this tornado its F4 rating. Two people in the house were injured but thankfully no one was killed. The Caneyville tornado was a very quiet prelude to even more devastation soon to come.
Sayler Park, Cincinnati, Ohio – 5:20 pm
The fourth violent tornado produced by the Depauw supercell, this tornado ravaged the western suburbs of Cincinnati. Sayler Park sits on the Ohio River about eight miles west of Cincinnati’s central business district. The tornado actually formed in Indiana near the edge of the river. It is notable as only the third “tri-state” tornado in history, affecting Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. The tornado intensified over rural northern Kentucky, affecting the communities of Bullittsville and Taylorsport before roaring across the river into Sayler Park as an F5, the fourth of the outbreak. The tornado caused heavy damage to the area, leveling many homes in the hills on the east side of the community. Three people were killed, over 100 injured and hundreds of homes were destroyed.
Mason, Ohio – 5:28 pm
The Depauw cell wasn’t done yet. Not long after the Sayler Park tornado lifted, the cell dropped yet another violent tornado. It tore through the northern suburbs of Cincinnati, touching down just four miles north of downtown and moving north-northeast along Mill Creek. It hit the communities of Reading and Sharonville before rapidly strengthening into an F4 as it moved into Mason, where it destroyed several homes and killed two people. Starting in southern Indiana two hours earlier, the same supercell produced an incredible five violent tornadoes, F4 or higher, including two F5s. It later dropped an F2 that hit Lebanon, Ohio before the cell finally tapered off.
Louisville, Kentucky – 5:37 pm
This powerful tornado touched down in the heart of Louisville near the Kentucky Exposition Center less than a mile from Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is held. After trashing the Exposition Center and Freedom Hall, it crossed I-65, hurling several cars through the air, and tore through the Audubon Park subdivision as an F4. As it tracked northeast, it passed through several other neighborhoods, doing heavy damage. Thousands of trees were blown down in Cherokee Park. By the time the tornado lifted near Brownsboro, over 900 homes had been destroyed. By some miracle, just three people lost their lives. The local news station broadcast news of the tornado live, pleading with people to seek shelter. The station’s helicopter pilot bravely followed the tornado, giving minute-by-minute updates of the tornado’s progress. Their efforts have been credited with saving many lives.
Elizabethtown, Kentucky – 5:45 pm
Forming northwest of Elizabethtown, just south of Fort Knox, this tornado flattened homes and businesses just north of town and killed two people. The destruction continued as it moved into Nelson County, slamming into Cox’s Creek, demolishing 15 homes and killing one person. 52 homes were destroyed in rural Nelson County alone. It skirted by Fairfield just five miles down the road at somewhat diminished intensity before lifting near the Bullitt County line. In addition to the three deaths, another 81 were injured and over 150 buildings were destroyed.
Monticello, Indiana – 5:45 pm
The Monticello tornado was the longest track tornado of the outbreak and one of the longest track tornadoes on record. It traveled an unbelievable 108 miles across the state of Indiana, causing widespread devastation along the way. It was a powerful, half-mile wide F4 that wreaked havoc across a large portion of the state. Monticello was devastated. Much of the town was destroyed, including the courthouse, three schools, several churches, over 40 businesses and well over 100 homes. Over $100 million in damage was done to Monticello alone. Other towns such as Chalmers, Rochester, Talma and Ligonier were also hit. Nineteen people were killed, including five who died when their mini-bus was thrown off the road and down a 50-foot embankment into the Tippecanoe River.
Mannsville, Kentucky – 6:40 pm
As the Monticello tornado was laying waste to a good portion of Indiana, violent storms continued to batter central Kentucky. This tornado touched down over open country south of Greensburg and moved northeast, passing through suburban neighborhoods south and east of Campbellsville along the north end of Green River Lake. Its worst, however, wouldn’t come until near the end of its track, after it had passed into rural Taylor County. It slammed into the community of Mannsville as an F4, destroying most of the town. The tornado destroyed 50 homes, 40 of them in Mannsville alone. Luckily, no one was killed but 56 were injured.
Resaca, Georgia – 6:40 pm
Meanwhile, a handful of violent cells began popping up in the Deep South. The Resaca tornado came virtually out of nowhere. It formed about two miles west of Calhoun and moved northeast, strengthening rapidly. It slammed into the small town of Sugar Valley as an F4. Much of the town was destroyed. Then it ripped through the northwest side of Resaca, effectively destroying that section of town. It would go on to hit the larger town of Chatsworth about 12 miles to the northeast as a much weaker tornado. Nine people were killed, 54 injured and over $4.3 million in damage was done. It was Georgia’s deadliest tornado in over two decades.
Frankfort, Kentucky – 6:50 pm
As the sun began to set, the carnage in Kentucky continued. A tornado touched down about six miles northwest of Lawrenceburg and moved northeast, steadily intensifying. It struck the small town of Alton, north of Lawrenceburg, destroying 12 homes. It continued to intensify after it left Alton and soon it was a mile-wide F4 headed straight for the state capital. It tore through the city’s southern suburbs, devastating entire neighborhoods and killing four people. Fortunately, by the time the tornado reached the city center, it had weakened significantly, but the damage was done. 120 homes and businesses were destroyed or severely damaged and as many people were injured.
Tanner, Alabama – 6:15 pm (CT)
Just as the activity in the Ohio Valley was dying down, the activity in the southeast was heating up. At around 5 pm, several intense supercells formed over the northern portion of Alabama. The evening’s events would make the town of Tanner, a small community along the shore of Wheeler Lake, famous for all the wrong reasons. The tornado touched down near Mount Hope, well to the southwest of Huntsville and moved northeast across mostly rural areas, gradually intensifying. The Mt. Moriah community northwest of Moulton was devastated. 14 people were killed there and the entire town was obliterated. The tornado crossed Wheeler Lake without missing a beat and struck the eastern portions of Tanner as a monster F5. The entire eastern half of the town was virtually demolished. Another 14 people were killed in and around Tanner. The tornado continued into Madison County, and after causing heavy damage in Capshaw, it finally lifted.
Ida, Kentucky – 7:40 pm
Touching down near the Tennessee border, this tornado devastated a handful of small rural communities in Clinton County. It formed two miles south of Kettle and moved northeast. It all but demolished the small town of Ida and heavily damaged the community of Seventy-Six before hitting the larger town of Cumberland City, causing heavy damage there. Passing along the shore of Lake Cumberland, the tornado hopped a couple of rivers, striking the communities of Cabell and Parnell before lifting near Mill Springs. Ten people were killed and almost 100 were injured.
Richmond, Kentucky – 8:20 pm
Kentucky’s eighth violent tornado in four hours, this one touched down in rural Garrard County near the village of Hackley and moved northeast toward the city of Richmond. The tornado strengthened steadily, moving into Madison County as an F4. It tore through Richmond’s northern suburbs, leveling several homes, heavily damaging many others, and killing three people. But the tornado wasn’t done yet. After moving back into rural areas north of Richmond, it slammed into the village of Redhouse, devastating much of the town and killing four people. The tornado finally lifted east of Mount Sterling in Clark County.
Juno, Georgia – 8:30 pm
Meanwhile, the train of storms moving through the Deep South began to intensify. As the Richmond tornado was touching down in Kentucky, a few discrete supercells began moving into Georgia. The Juno tornado, like the Resaca tornado two hours earlier, struck without warning. It formed a few miles northeast of Ball Ground, south and east of Jasper in Pickens County. It rapidly intensified and struck the hamlet of Yellow Creek, causing severe damage but fortunately only one person was killed and 17 were injured. The tornado then turned more sharply northeastward, passing less than two miles from Big Canoe, a popular retreat, and moving into Dawson County. Then it slammed into the small town of Juno, about five miles northwest of Dawsonville, demolishing several homes and killing five people. The tornado lifted just a few miles northeast of Juno.
7:35 pm (CT)
Less than an hour after the tornado struck, rescue operations were well underway in Tanner. Little did they know, they were about to be hit again. A second tornado touched down along the shore of Wheeler Lake and intensified very rapidly. It rolled straight through the heart of the battered community as at least a strong F4. Dozens of people were still out in the streets assisting with rescue efforts. The second tornado took them completely by surprise. Many of them were killed. What little was left following the first tornado was destroyed by the second. Moving northeastward, the tornado then struck the town of Harvest, which also suffered significant damage from the first tornado. The first tornado had missed the town to the south, but the second made a direct hit, destroying a good portion of it. But forgotten in the wake of what had happened to Tanner was the devastation the second tornado wrought on the town of Hazel Green. Much of the town was destroyed as the tornado tore through it as a half-mile wide F4. 22 people died in the tornado, most of them in Tanner but several in Harvest and Hazel Green. Debate rages to this day as to whether the 2nd Tanner tornado was an F5. The damage left by the two tornadoes was difficult to distinguish, so we may never know for sure. 50 people were killed by the Tanner tornadoes and over 400 were injured. Over 1,000 homes were completely destroyed and many others were heavily damaged.
Flintville, Tennessee – 7:45 pm (CT)
Despite all chaos breaking loose to the north and the south, Tennessee had thus far escaped the carnage. But that was about to change. As the Hazel Green tornado crossed the border into Tennessee and weakened, a nearby cell was gaining strength. The tornado touched down in southern Lincoln County near the Alabama border and moved northeast, strengthening rapidly. It slammed into the small town of Flintville as an F4 almost without warning, obliterating much of the town and killing six people. After crossing over into Franklin County, it raked by the much larger town of Estill Springs, killing another five. It was Tennessee’s deadliest tornado in over two decades. At least 121 people were injured.
Jasper, Alabama – 7:55 pm (CT)
As the residents of Tanner were watching their world disappear, another tornado touched down to the south near the town of Carrollton, close to the Mississippi border. Over the next two hours, the storm ripped a 111-mile path across central Alabama, leaving devastation in its wake. Steadily strengthening as it moved northeast, it passed near the towns of Reform, Concord, Berry, Salem, and Oakman, and as the clock approached 8 pm, it was bearing down on Jasper as an F4 tornado. It raked through the northwestern portion of the town, causing severe damage, especially in the suburb of Five Points. It continued northeast and struck the town of Cullman, doing heavy damage there as well. The tornado destroyed over 500 homes and seriously damaged at least as many. Luckily, just three people were killed. As the Jasper tornado lifted at around 8:45 pm, another intense supercell was crossing the border into Alabama…
Goffton, Tennessee – 8:15 pm (CT)
Back in Tennessee, another tornado touched down in far northern White County near the village of Macedonia and moved northeastward. Jumping the line into Putnam County, the tornado intensified rapidly and tore through suburban neighborhoods along Highway 24 southeast of Cookeville. The suburban community of Goffton took the brunt of the impact. Fifty homes were completely destroyed. The tornado continued northeastward, crossing I-40 at Rocky Point Road and passing through rural areas just northwest of Monterey, slightly weaker. Passing into Overton County, the tornado finally lifted near the Hanging Limb community south of Crawford. Ten people died in the storm, most of them in the Goffton area, and 51 people were injured.
Murphy, North Carolina – 9:20 pm
Meanwhile, a solitary supercell was intensifying over far north Georgia. The tornado touched down north of Mineral Bluff and curved northeastward, following Highway 60. Crossing into North Carolina, the tornado struck the border town of Culberson, doing only moderate damage. It intensified as it moved through the Nantahala National Forest, destroying thousands of trees, and ripped through Murphy as an F4, causing severe damage to the city’s main residential area. Four people were killed, 26 were injured, and numerous homes were destroyed. All told, the tornado left $13 million worth of damage.
Moodyville, Tennessee – 8:30 pm (CT)
Before the Goffton tornado had even lifted, another tornado touched down in rural Pickett County southeast of Byrdstown, not far from the Kentucky border. It intensified very rapidly and struck the small town of Moodyville without warning. Several homes were destroyed, five people were killed and another six were injured more or less severely. It would go on to strike the community of Travisville as a weaker tornado before passing into Kentucky and lifting over rural Wayne County.
Guin, Alabama – 8:50 pm (CT)
The last and possibly the most powerful of the F5 tornadoes that day, the monstrous Guin tornado carved an 80-mile path of destruction through the Alabama countryside. It touched down just south of Sulligent in Lamar County and moved northeastward, rapidly intensifying. The National Weather Service office in Birmingham issued an urgent tornado warning for Guin and the surrounding area, but it was too late. In the darkness, many of Guin’s residents saw an enormous black mass barreling toward the city and scrambled to get into tornado shelters. Some were still out in the open when the mile-wide monster slammed into the town. Guin was obliterated. Hardly a single wall remained standing. The occasional knarled, broken tree trunk stuck out of the piles of rubble. Twenty three people died in Guin alone and over 500 buildings were leveled. Continuing northeast, the tornado struck the village of Delmar, doing heavy damage and killing five people. Another two died in the community of Ashridge as the tornado ripped through the Bankhead National Forest, leveling tens of thousands of trees. It didn’t lift until it was south of Decatur shortly after 10 pm. In all, the tornado killed 30 people and completely destroyed over 500 homes and businesses, leaving a swath of destruction 80-miles long and up to a mile wide. It was so powerful and long-lived that its damage path could be seen from space.
Jamestown, Tennessee – 8:50 pm (CT)
At the same time, another strong tornado was touching down in Tennessee. This one formed in Fentress County south of Wilder, not far from where the Goffton tornado lifted, and moved northeast. It completely demolished a subdivision south of Jamestown near the municipal airport, killing seven people and injuring 150. It would go on to strike the town of Allardt as a slightly weaker tornado, doing moderate damage there, before lifting near the Jamestown Reservoir.
Rattlesnake Ridge, Kentucky – 11:00 pm
Less than eight hours and 29 violent tornadoes after the Depauw tornado touched down in Indiana, a trailing supercell over southeastern Kentucky made it an even 30. Ironically, the last F4 of the most violent tornado outbreak in history was the only one that did absolutely nothing. It touched down over the mountainous terrain of Daniel Boone National Forest in southeastern Wayne County near Highway 167 and moved northeast into McCreary County. Two miles east of Parmleysville, it banked more to the east, ripping through miles of dense Appalachian forest, doing massive timber damage. It raked along Rattlesnake Ridge Road north of Co-Operative, destroying a few mountain homes. Weakening a bit, the tornado crossed Highway 92 and the South Fork Cumberland River before lifting a few miles northwest of Whitley City. In a blissful change of pace, not a single person was hurt.
Huntsville, Alabama – 10:24 pm (CT)
Huntsville was where it all began. Two days earlier, on April 1, an F3 had ripped right through the heart of the city, causing significant damage. Several buildings had their roofs blown off. The Carriage Inn lost its roof and much of the third floor was trashed. A church steeple was torn loose and carried 25 miles away. Perhaps it was only fitting that the outbreak of the century ended where it began. Not long after the Guin tornado lifted, the same supercell dropped another tornado near Priceville. The tornado tore across the Tennessee River and into the Redstone Arsenal just to the south of Huntsville as a strong F3, doing heavy damage there, and moved into the city’s southern suburbs. Haden, Dug Hill and Brownsboro all suffered significant damage. Nearly 1,000 structures were destroyed. Fortunately, no one was killed. The Huntsville tornado was the last major tornado of the outbreak, but unfortunately two more fatal tornadoes would touch down during the overnight hours.
Three tornadoes not discussed here killed at least five people, all F3s: near Stroh, Indiana (5); at Goodwater, Kentucky (7); and at Windsor, Ontario (9).
The Super Outbreak was by far the most violent tornado outbreak in history. 148 tornadoes touched down in a single 24 hour period from 9 AM April 3 to 9 AM April 4. They included an incredible 30 violent tornadoes, more than the previous three years combined. The 21st Century didn’t reach that total until September, 2006. And all but one of them touched down within six and a half hours of each other. At least six (possibly seven) were F5s, which equals or exceeds the total for the previous seven years. For comparison, the first decade of the 21st Century recorded just four F5s/EF5s (only three official). The Super Outbreak had that many in two hours. It was perhaps the most awesome display of the power of nature in history.
30 violent tornadoes…29 of them in less than seven hours
3:20 pm Depauw, Indiana – 6 dead, 86 injured, ~$50 million in damage
3:40 pm Xenia, Ohio – 36 dead, 1150 injured, 1400 buildings destroyed
4:00 pm Kennard, Indiana – 1 dead, 17 injured, Kennard/Grant City ruined
4:01 pm Hamburg, Indiana – 4 dead, 17 injured, Hamburg in ruins
4:19 pm Hanover, Indiana – 11 dead, 300 injured, $50 million in damage
4:25 pm Brandenburg, Kentucky – 31 dead, 270 injured, Brandenburg gone
4:35 pm Parker City, Indiana – 1 dead, 12 injured, >$10 million in damage
4:40 pm Bear Branch, Indiana – 104 injured, ~$50 million in damage
5:00 pm Caneyville, Kentucky – 2 injured, several homes destroyed
5:20 pm Sayler Park, Ohio – 3 dead, 210 injured, 100+ homes destroyed
5:28 pm Mason, Ohio – 2 dead, 39 injured, ~$500,000 in damage
5:37 pm Louisville, Kentucky – 3 dead, 225 injured, 900 homes destroyed
5:45 pm Elizabethtown, Kentucky – 3 dead, 81 injured, 100 bldgs destroyed
5:45 pm Monticello, Indiana – 18 dead, 285 injured, $250 million in damage
6:40 pm Mannsville, Kentucky – 56 injured, 50 homes destroyed
6:40 pm Resaca, Georgia – 9 dead, 67 injured, many homes destroyed
6:50 pm Frankfort, Kentucky – 4 dead, 122 injured, 132 homes destroyed
6:15 pm (CT) Tanner, Alabama – 28 dead, 267 injured, 500 homes destroyed
7:40 pm Ida, Kentucky – 10 dead, 113 injured, 50 homes destroyed
8:20 pm Richmond, Kentucky – 7 dead, 28 injured, 100+ homeless
8:30 pm Juno, Georgia – 6 dead, 30 injured, >9 homes destroyed
7:35 pm (CT) Hazel Green, Alabama – 22 dead, 250 injured, 500 homes destroyed
7:45 pm (CT) Flintville, Tennessee – 11 dead, 121 injured, ~$1M in damage
7:55 pm (CT) Jasper, Alabama – 3 dead, 178 injured, 546 buildings destroyed
8:15 pm (CT) Goffton, Tennessee – 10 dead, 51 injured, ~$5 million in damage
9:20 pm Murphy, North Carolina – 4 dead, 26 injured, $13 million in damage
8:30 pm (CT) Moodyville, Tennessee – 5 dead, 6 injured, several homes leveled
8:50 pm (CT) Guin, Alabama – 30 dead, 272 injured, Guin in ruins
8:50 pm (CT) Jamestown, Tennessee – 7 dead, 150 injured, 50 homes destroyed
11:00 pm Rattlesnake Ridge, Kentucky – minimal damage; the one violent tornado that day that was merciful