COUNTIES: REYNOLDS / IRON / MADISON / BOLLINGER / CAPE GIRARDEAU / PERRY, MO / JACKSON / WILLIAMSON / FRANKLIN / HAMILTON / WHITE, IL / POSEY / GIBSON / PIKE, IN
At About 1:01 p.m. on March 18, 1925, trees started to snap like twigs north-northwest of Ellington, Missouri. For the next three and half hours, this monstrous storm would destroy numerous buildings and would slaughter people. This same tornado would set records for speed, path length, and probably for other categories that could not be measured that far in the past. The tornado maintained an exact heading, North 69 degrees East, for 183 of the 219 miles, following a slight ridge on which a series of mining towns were built. It traveled at a speed about 62 miles per hour.
The counties that were listed above were the main targets of this devastating windstorm. Between Gorham and Murphysboro, the speed was a record setting of 73 mph. There was no distinct funnel visible through most of the twister's path, but for over 100 miles, the path width held at about three-quarters of a mile.
After the twister touched down three miles north-northwest of Ellington, Missouri, its first victim was a farmer. The funnel was reported to be very wide, maybe even a double tornado. It was also accompanied by downbursts as it passed through Annapolis, and then moved on to a mining town called "Leadanna", which was two miles south of Annapolis. Two peoples' lives were lost, 75 people were injured in that area, and losses in both towns totaled about $500,000. There were no people injured across most of Iron, and all of the Madison counties. However, the damage path was very wide, and the damage was reported to be around an F2 in intensity (this rating may be the result of a break in the path of the tornado). But, downbursts damage connected the damage tracks of the tornado five miles south of Fredrickstown. Only once more, near Princeton, Indiana, would there even be a small hint that this event was a tornado, or tornado/downburst experience.
Once it traveled out of the Ozark hills and onto the farmland of Bollinger and Perry counties, the death toll quickly climbed, as it had done near Lixville, Biehle, and Frohna. One child was killed in a rural wooden school, five miles North of Altenburg, Perry County. At least 32 children were injured as two Bollinger County schools were almost completely destroyed. It became a double tornado for three miles near Biehle. About eleven people probably died in Missouri, although some lists have thirteen casualties.
The devastation was at its worst in Illinois. At Gorham, thirty-four people died as the town was virtually destroyed. Over half of the town's population was either killed or injured. Seven of the deaths were at the school. At Murphysboro, where the death toll was at its highest, within a single city, in United States history. The 234 deaths included at least 25 people in three different schools. These schools were built with stone and brick, and the students and faculty were crushed under the tumbling walls and roof.
Murphysboro losses were about $10,000,000.
Another 69 people died in and near the Desoto area. The 33 deaths at the school was the worst in U.S. tornado history. Parrish was devastated with 22 deaths, and so was the northwest part of West Frankfort, which had $800,000 worth of damage. Approximately 800 miners were 500 feet down in a mine (though aware of the storm, they lost power, and were left in the dark) when the tornado struck. The only path to escaping was a narrow escapement. Most of the demolished homes were cottages of miners, and many of the 127 dead and 450 injured were women and children of the miners trapped inside the mine.
Later, 65 people were killed in Hamilton and White County. There were several individual deaths in three different rural schools of White County; these farmers were obviously unaware of what terror was about to bear down on them. This amazingly powerful storm had such a great forward speed, and appeared as a "rolling mass of boiling clouds", rather than the normal visible funnel of a tornado. This would have scared any farmer who had experienced twisters in the past. This monster was one-of-a-kind.
In Indiana, several funnels inside the massive twister were occasionally visible. This 3/4-mile-wide path of destruction continued relentlessly, preparing to destroy more lives. At least 71 of these poor, unsuspecting people died in Indiana. The town of Griffin, in particular, lost 150 homes. Several children were killed walking home from their schools, and two deaths were in a bus. Its path continued along rural lands between Griffin and Princeton, traveling just northwest of Owensville. About 85 farms were destroyed in those areas. About half of Princeton was destroyed, and their losses totaled $1,800,000. The funnel dissipated about 10 miles northeast of Princeton. Total cost in damages were about $16,500,000. And the human lives lost can never be replaced.