Widely considered the most devastating and powerful tornado in American history, the Great Tri-State Tornado ripped through Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana on March 18, 1925. In its 219-mile-long wake it left four completely destroyed towns, six severely damaged ones, 15,000 destroyed homes, and 2,000 injured. Most significantly, 695 people were killed, a record for a single tornado. The Great Tri-State Tornado left a legacy that is evidenced by ghost towns, lost ancestors, and stories passed from generation to generation.
As a result, 540 people died in southern Illinois in the following towns: Gorham (37), Murphysboro (234), DeSoto (69), and West Frankfort (148). In addition, 52 people died on farms and small settlements in southern Illinois. The counties of Jackson, Franklin, Hamilton, and White were affected within southern Illinois.
In Franklin County, two communities were struck by the storm cloud. The town of Parrish was virtually destroyed; the town was never rebuilt and today it exists as a smattering of older homes.
One hundred forty-eight lives were lost in West Frankfort, as were 20% of its homes and businesses.
In Jackson County, the towns of Murphysboro and DeSoto were hardest hit. Murphysboro suffered from 234 deaths, while 40 percent of the homes were destroyed and strong winds and the fires that swept through town after the tornado damaged another 30 percent. Witnesses recalled seeing the fires from as far as 60 miles away. One person described seeing a Murphysboro house lifted into the air and then explodes like a bomb, and others had similar stories. Sixty-nine people died in DeSoto when approximately 30% of the town was destroyed. During a 3.5-hour lifespan, the devastating funnel cloud averaged a quarter-mile in width but at times grew as wide as a mile. The tornado and its debris cloud were so large that they...