A storm system arising in the Gulf of Mexico spawns a devastating series of tornadoes that kills more than 350 people across the Southeast over two days. Thousands were seriously injured and many were left homeless by this deadly rash of twisters.
The tornadoes began late on a Monday afternoon near the Mississippi and Alabama border. Warm air from the Gulf of Mexico collided with a cold front to the north, setting up perfect tornado conditions. The first twister touched down in Marion, Alabama, where 18 people were killed and 150 were injured at a large plantation farm. Next hit was Tuscaloosa–the Druid City Hospital there was inundated with victims. Moving northeast in Alabama, tornadoes caused such destruction in the town of Northport that it had to be sealed and National Guard troops called in.
Twenty-nine people were killed in Demopolis, Alabama, with reports of boxcars from nearby train tracks flying through the air. In Chilton County, witness William Lyon reported “large timber 200 feet in the air.” Churches and schools were demolished across the county and 40 people were killed. In Sylacauga, 100 homes were leveled and 19 people killed. The final death toll in Alabama was 299.
In northern Alabama, the storm front split into two parts. The first part moved toward Tennessee and Kentucky, while the other pushed toward Georgia and the Carolinas. A total of 359 people died in six different states from the 33 recorded tornadoes that persisted through the night. The horrific spate of tornadoes also did heavy damage to livestock and crops. The disaster came at a particularly tough time for the people and economy of the region; they were already reeling from the effects of the Great Depression.