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The March 21, 1932 Outbreak: Sylacauga

| 10:30 pm March 21, 2009 | Comments (3)

We continue to look at stories from the March 21, 1932 tornado outbreak, which killed 315 Alabamians. It is the deadliest day in the state’s tornado history. At least fifteen tornadoes touched down across the state during the long and incredible afternoon and night. Thirteen of the tornadoes were of F3 or F4 intensity.

The tenth tornado of the day touched down near Gantt’s Quarry in Talladega County around 7 p.m. In the community, one person lost their life. There were no weather warnings in those days. One family did have some warning because of their father’s instincts. He came to his son around 5 o’clock and told him to stay real ready, that something big was fixing to happen. They heard the tornado coming and huddled in the center of the house. A huge chimney crashed down on the bed that the young man had just left to go to a safer part of their home.

The furious tornado then turned its sights on the north and northwest portions of the city of Sylacauga.
The Persons family of Sylacauga was at home that night. The father was the preacher at the First Baptist Church. He suddenly called out, “Girls, take hands quickly.” “What is he talking about?” they wondered. He led the three daughters and wife to form a circle. He thanked God that they were living and asked that they be saved. He prayed for the safety of the town. One of the daughters says that the weather was beginning to turn bad outside, the wind screaming. After saying “amen,” he sent the children to sit quietly.

A huge, beautiful oak tree crashed down on their porte cochere, a sort of covered porch for automobiles on the side of the house. The tree was so big that all three daughters could not put their arms all the way around the tree as they joined hands. It missed the house by inches.

The Pastor went down to view the damage and to gather men to go and help those affected by the storm.

The church opened its basement as a shelter, taking in anyone and everyone who had lost their homes and loved ones. People brought food and sheets.

The Main Avenue School was nearly totally destroyed. Townspeaople counted their blessings that school had not been in session. If the tornado had struck during the afternoon, the death toll in students and teachers would have been horrible.

The tornado was an F4 as rated by the Tornado Project. It was on the ground for 25 miles and at its peak was 400 yards wide. It killed a total of 41 people and injured 325. Twenty nine of the fatalities occurred in Sylacauga. Over 600 homes were damaged or destroyed and 1,300 people were left homeless.

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  1. LoriJ@Pelham says:

    I’m from the Sylacauga/Childersburg area (March 21st is also my birthdate BUT not in 1932), my grandmother told me some pretty horrific stories about those storms, some that I’m not comfortable to tell on here. This past Thursday, I was at the new Finchers in Sylacauga and they had an old Sylacauga newspaper’s front page from March 1932 with all the news about the storms of that night. It was very detailed and quite horrible.

  2. Becky says:

    My Daddy said that he and my Grandpaw went to Sylacauga in a wagon to help. He said that the tornado dug the pavement up in several areas and that he saw chickens with no feathers. It really made an impression on him. One story was that it blew a woman out of her house and up against a fence.She did not survive and was taken into someone’s home until someone could identify her. My mother in law said that her mother got them all together in the middle of the house and put sheets up against the windows so that they could not see the outside. She said that after the storm was over they all got their wagons out and went to rescue the people they heard screaming out in the woods. I can only imagine how scared they all were. She is 92 now and still remembers this day vividly.

  3. Josh in Talladega says:

    My 2nd Great Grandmother was killed during the May 1st 1953 tornado in Ashland. She was 96 at the time. It wiped the house off the foundation. Killed her, my 3rd Great Aunt and Uncle, injured their daughter, and also injured her kids. 4 generations in one house either killed or injured.

    Later on when I became an utility lineman, I also seen the horrors if tornadoes. Being the 1st to the scene before the cops would let the homeowners in was something horrible. If anyone has seen any tornado damage firsthand (not on t.v.) has learned not to play when there are tornadoes. If you do, be warned it could be your last time. They will not discriminate and will kill.

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