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School desks are visible in the wreckage of a Murphysboro, Illinois, schoolhouse destroyed by the tornado on March 18, 1925.
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Date: March 18, 1925
Fujita scale intensity: F5
Dead: 689
Injured: More than 2,000
Damage: About $18 million (1925 dollars)

On March 18, 1925, the men of West Frankfort, Illinois, were 500 feet (152 meters) underground, working in mines. When the power died, the men climbed up through a shaft—and found their homes smashed and many of their loved ones dead, injured, or missing.

The massive tornado that killed 127 people, mostly women and children, in West Frankfort is the deadliest and longest-lasting twister on record.

In its record three-and-a-half hour spree across Missouri, Indiana, and Illinois, the tornado killed nearly 700 people, destroyed 15,000 homes, and obliterated town after town.

The tornado, spawned from a frontal storm, first touched down in northeast Missouri around 1 p.m. It briefly lifted up, as weak tornadoes often do, but then touched back down and grew into a monster. On average the whirlwind measured a quarter-mile (0.4-kilometer) wide.

The twister plowed a continous swath of damage for 219 miles (350 kilometers) from near Redford, Missouri, to east of Princeton, Indiana.

In Murphysboro, Illinois, the whirlwind wiped out 100 blocks, and another 70 were destroyed by fire. The town of Griffin, Indiana, was a complete loss. Not a single building survived. World War II veterans said the devastation resembled that of European battlefields.

At one point the twister traveled at 73 miles (117 kilometers) an hour before petering out at 4:30 p.m.

In 1925 there was no organized tornado warning system, so the twister took most people by surprise. Also, forecasters did not have the tools we have today.


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