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America's Deadliest Twister

The Tri-State Tornado of 1925

Geoff Partlow

Publication Year: 2014

Disaster relief as we know it did not exist when the deadliest tornado in U.S. history gouged a path from southeast Missouri through southern Illinois and into southwestern Indiana. The tri-state tornado of 1925 hugged the ground for 219 miles, generated wind speeds in excess of 300 miles per hour, and killed 695 people. Drawing on survivor interviews, public records, and newspaper archives, America’s Deadliest Twister offers a detailed account of the storm, but more important, it describes life in the region at that time as well as the tornado’s lasting cultural impact, especially on southern Illinois.

Author Geoff Partlow follows the storm from town to town, introducing us to the people most affected by the tornado, including the African American population of southern Illinois. Their narratives, along with the stories of the heroes who led recovery efforts in the years following, add a hometown perspective to the account of the storm itself.

In the discussion of the aftermath of the tornado, Partlow examines the lasting social and economic scars in the area, but he also looks at some of the technological firsts associated with this devastating tragedy. Partlow shows how relief efforts in the region began to change the way people throughout the nation thought about disaster relief, which led to the unified responses we are familiar with today.

Published by: Southern Illinois University Press

Series: Shawnee Books

Title Page, Copyright, Quote

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Writing is lonely business, an exercise in which one’s companions are ideas and facts. The writer finds solace in the words themselves, words mined from one’s mind to populate the page, orphans really, wide-eyed words that hope to find a home in the reader’s heart...

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1. Genesis, 1 p.m.: Annapolis, Missouri, to Gorham, Illinois

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pp. 1-10

The official National Weather Service forecast for Wednesday, March 18, 1925, issued for the southern reaches of Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana called for “rains and strong shifting winds,” a prediction that was a tragedy of understatement. The tempest that formed in the Missouri Ozarks...

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2. Murphysboro, Illinois

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pp. 11-41

Hugging the course of the Big Muddy River, the storm advanced toward Murphysboro, a busy city of thirteen thousand, a rail and manufacturing center at the time, and the Jackson County seat, which it is today. The tornado crossed the river on the city’s southwest outskirts at Buster...

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3. DeSoto, Illinois

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pp. 42-60

Just seven minutes after most of Murphysboro was leveled, the Tri- State Tornado hit DeSoto at 2:48 p.m. No town in the path would proportionally suffer a higher fatality rate than this tiny village in which sixty-nine people died. Thirty-three of them were children buried in the...

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4. West Frankfort, Illinois

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pp. 61-72

At 2:53 p.m., five miles northeast of DeSoto, the storm reached Bush, a mining camp of flimsy, cookie-cutter, unpainted frame homes lining the dirt streets in rows. The community boasted a company store, a dance hall, a skating rink, dentists and doctors, a soda fountain/sweet shop, a...

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5. Parrish and Crossville, Illinois; Griffin, Owensville, and Princeton, Indiana; Dissipation

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pp. 73-69

Just before 3:15 p.m., the tornado tracked northeast of West Frankfort into lightly populated agricultural country in rural Franklin County, a period in the tornado’s history representing a quarter of the total storm’s path. The tiny farming community with the ironic name of Parrish was leveled...

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6. Aftermath

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pp. 90-114

It has been said that the measure of a person may be drawn by how well he or she performs in adversity. People in the three-state region, particularly Egypt because it experienced 80 percent of the total casualties, had an enormous problem on their hands. Medical care, drugs, hospital beds, and...

Appendix: Rosters of the Dead by Town

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pp. 115-124


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pp. 125-130


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pp. 131-134


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pp. 135-142

About the Author, Series page, Back cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780809333479
E-ISBN-10: 0809333473
Print-ISBN-13: 9780809333462
Print-ISBN-10: 0809333465

Page Count: 160
Illustrations: 48
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Shawnee Books