Spring is here, and with it comes the increased risk of tornadoes. A tornado can happen at any time, but late winter and early spring are peak periods of activity for some parts of the United States.
Eighty-eight years ago, on March 18, 1925, a devastating spring tornado struck Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Sources differ on the composition of the storm, but what became known as the Tri-State Tornado resulted in mass fatalities and widespread damage.
Midwestern tornadoes are more likely to occur in the afternoon, and the Tri-State Tornado followed that pattern. The tornado originated in Missouri, moving at a rate of 57 to 68 miles per hour and traveling into Indiana and eventually Illinois. Several accounts indicate the storm stayed low to the ground and was not slowed by changes in the landscape.
The damage and loss of life was devastating. As reported in the Red Cross disaster summary for “The Midwestern Tornado”:
“…buildings of all kinds—residences, stores, factories, school buildings—collapsed or were torn to pieces, frequently burying occupants in the wreckage…”
There were more than 600 casualties from the storm, and more than 2,000 people were seriously wounded. Property damage reached an estimated $16.5 million.
According to Red Cross reports, Murphysboro, Ill., suffered the most concentrated and extensive damage, with more than 200 casualties and numerous blocks of homes, churches, schools and businesses destroyed by wind and fire. The damage was so extensive in Griffin, Ind., and Gorham and DeSoto, Ill., the Red Cross constructed community buildings.
With a well-established network of field units in place, the Red Cross responded immediately with doctors, nurses and emergency supplies. The federal government supplied tents for housing. Tetanus vaccines were brought in because of excessive dirt in the wounds caused by flying debris. The Red Cross First Aid car, located in Indianapolis, rushed to the scene.
The Red Cross established 13 relief centers, with their headquarters based in Murphysboro. Within 10 days, Red Cross chapters received $385,989 in public donations. The Red Cross processed approximately 6,847 cases over the course of 12 months, providing storm-impacted individuals with food, medical aid, clothing, building supplies and repairs, tools, household goods and transport.
By the time the disaster response ended, Red Cross staff named the relief operation the M.I.I. disaster (Missouri, Indiana, Illinois). The program took a year to complete. The office in Murphysboro closed on March 1, 1926, having spent more than $2.9 million on disaster relief.