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.