Story of a Strange Tornado

| January 22, 2009 @ 11:39 am | 18 Replies

It happened six miles due north of downtown Havana Junction where I grew up.

But it happened 28 years before I joined the population of this ole earth.

It happened 105 years ago today.

It happened out of season.

It happened at the worst possible time.

It was especially strong for January.

There was no such thing as radar.

No satellites.

No trained storm spotters.

No weather radio.

No radio at all.

No T. V.

No cell phones.

Few, if any, old crank-type telephones.

It was an F4 tornado and it plowed through the heart of Moundville shortly after midnight on January 22, 1904. Moundville had not been established very long. It is located in extreme North Hale County just a few miles south of the Tuscaloosa County line.

Even though the entire downtown heart of Moundville was destroyed, the total property damage was assessed at only $80,000. Can you imagine!

It seems that the word “inflation” had not yet been coined in 1904.

37 fatalaties.
63 injuries.

I am holding in my never nicotine-stained fingers a full page of black and white pictures of the damage owned by Cary Finley and assembled by Grace Chandler and published in the February 22, 1996 edition of The Moundville Times. I have looked at those pictures very closely a number of times and I think I would have rated the powerful tornado an F5 instead of an F4.

The tornado was not a long-track tornado. After destroying the town, it disappeared toward the NE following closely the tracks of the Alabama Great Southern Railroad.

These unusual things happened:

*Luckily, a northbound train pulled into Moundville very soon after the tornado occurred. The engineer, seeing what had happened, put his locomotive in reverse and raced all the way backwards to Akron where he sent a telegraph message to Tuscaloosa appealing for help. Doctors from Moundville, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham worked for two days treating the injured in temporary hospitals that were set up on Dr. Griffin’s back porch and at the Elliott store. That was the only store left standing. A newspaper reporter from the Birmingham paper traveled by train to write about the tornado. I think the name of the newspaper was the old Birmingham Ledger.

* An infant was snatched from its crib in the lower part of town and hurled through the air. It was airborne as it passed over the demolished stores. It was deposited unijured in an old cotton field more than 100 yards away.

* A woman was blown into a well 80-feet deep. She was later pulled out of the water still alive and not seriously injured. She was able to walk around.

* A horse was also blown into a well and later pulled out without a scratch.

* A young man was killed when a 2×4 timber many feet long was driven through his body. It entered through his neck and protruded through the left side of his abdomen.

* A trunk was picked up and deposited in Taylorville south of Tuscaloosa. A hat was found 9 miles away. It was new and had never been sold. Bolts of cloth were carried several miles.

* Everything in the tornado path was swept aside including heavily laden freight cars standing on the tracks. The tornado sucked heavy timbers from the rain cars and scattered them nearby.

* One of the nicest buildings in town was the Griffin Hotel. It was demolished as if a playhouse. Two men staying there met their death–one was a Birmingham salesman.

* Among the first people to reach the scene was the chief of police of Tuscaloosa and physicians from Tuscaloosa. The injured and dying had already been carried to the home of Dr. R. J. Griffin and the Elliott store on the east side of town where a temporary hospital had been set up.

NOTE: Much of this information was from The Moundville Times. Ray Chandler, who writes for the Times, has written several excellent stories on this tragedy over the last few years. The Moundville Times is an excellent weekly newspaper and, yes, I am a continuing subscriber. I never forget my roots.

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