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Magazine Article about Tornado
Unknown Magazine, Unknown Date
Transcribed by Martha Wright
Alabama's Darkest Day: March 21, 1932
In A 4-Hour Span 268 Were Killed By a Rash of Killer Tornados
Monday, March 21, 1932 dawned bright and clear over Alabama. Spring had been ushered in the previous day in a most fitting manner-a beautiful day with temperatures reaching an unseasonal high of the mid-70's.
Most Alabamians grabbed their newspapers that day to read of the latest developments in perhaps the biggest crime story in U. S. history-the kidnapping of the 20-month-old infant named Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. The child had been abducted from its nursery on March 1, and the world waited breathlessly fro each development in this story which was to end so tragically.
There was also some political news on the front pages of Alabama newspapers that March 21. A colorful character named William H. "Alfalfa Bill" Murray was in Alabama seeking support in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination. Murray, the governor of Oklahoma, admitted that he expected strong competition for the nomination from yet another governor-Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York, Murray was right.
The weather forecast for that Monday caused scant interest. Both the morning Montgomery Advertiser and afternoon Birmingham, News carried forecasts suggesting the balmy weather was about to end. Thundershowers were forecast for late afternoon, followed by a sharp drop in temperature. Lacking the sophisticated gadgetry of today, the U. S. Weather Bureau had no way of anticipating what was in store for Alabama.
What was about to unfold was the worst catastrophe in recorded Alabama history. Starting with terrifying suddeness in mid-afternoon and continuing for some four hours, killer tornados struck widely scattered areas of Alabama-first in Perry County, then Tuscaloosa, back to Perry, then following a generally northeastward direction into Marengo, Chilton, Shelby, Talladega, Clay, Cullman, Morgan, Madison and Jackson counties. Nor was there any lessening of the fury of the storm. The devastation at Bridgeport in the very northeast corner of Alabama was as widespread as it had been elsewhere.
The havoc created by this fierce storm was like nothing Alabama had seen before or since. It was days, even weeks, before a reasonably accurate assessment could be made of the terrible cost in life, limb and property inflicted by this killer storm-7,000 homes and businesses destroyed, more than 1,850 people injured, and a staggering 268 Alabamians killed.
The death toll dwarfed any previous disaster in recorded Alabama history. In fact, the March 21, 1932 catastrophe still stands as one of the deadliest tornados in U. S. history. There have been several storms which took more lives, but never in this century has one state suffered so many casualties as did Alabama on that day.
For days after the tragedy the state newspapers were filled with eyewitness accounts of the fury of the storm. In Northport, which perhaps suffered the greatest damage, seven men stood in front of a livery stable and barn and watched as the sky turned black, the ominous clouds beginning to rumble and boil. Suddenly the frightening spectacle of a cone-shaped funnel appeared, heading straight toward the seven men.
"It sounded like 49 trains running wide open," one of the men later said. "We all ran into the barn to escape."
Only he survived. The bodies of his six friends were found in the rubble of the barn.
Another survivor told of seeing a man and his wife-the survivor's next door neighbors-being hurled headfirst across a street and through the wall of another house. Both were killed. Yet another man was found sobbing in the ruins of his home. Within a few feet of him were the bodies of his wife, his two children, his mother and brother. Somehow he had escaped with only minor injuries.
The unbelievable force of the storm was evidenced in so many ways. One man found his automobile, still parked upright but badly damaged, more than 500 feet from where it had been parked. A housewife in rural Chilton County told of crouching in the corner of her frame house when the storm struck. Moments later she was literally carried some 200 feet, landing so gently in a plowed field that she received only minor bruises and scratches.
In one rural section of Chilton County several people were beaten to death by rocks being hurled through the air by the tornado.
In the after math of the storm it was concluded that the devastation had not been caused by one tornado but by a number of tornados, some striking simultaneously in various parts of the state.
No less than 25 cities and communities reported one or more fatalities-Demopolis, Marion, Thorsby, Columbiana, Northport, Jemison, Linden, Plantersville, Bethel Church, Gantt's Quarry, Sycamore, Lineville, Sylacauga, Collins Chapel, Stanton, Faunsdale, Falkville, Cullman, Corinth, Union Grove, Decatur, Huntsville, Paint Rock, Scottsboro and Bridgeport.
One of the strangest yet tragic coincidences of this disaster was to come the following Sunday, March 27-Easter Sunday. Literally hundreds of curious from both Birmingham, and Montgomery drove to Chilton County to see the storm-ravaged area. The Birmingham-Montgomery Highway was clogged with the traffic. In mid-afternoon the clouds began to grow dark, and the holiday-like atmosphere which had been evidenced by the morbid sightseers turned to panic as conditions worsened.
Suddenly a dreaded funnel cloud appeared on the horizon, and a near-panic developed among the curious. Many abandoned their cars to take refuge in ditches. The full force of this tornado struck a rural area in Chilton and Bibb Counties leaving eight dead and more than 50 injured.
The curious from Birmingham and Montgomery escaped the storm, but those who had fled to the ditches to hide were soaked to the skin by the torrential rain that accompanied the storm.