Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

KILLER TWISTER - DEATH NEAR DEXTER

                         
                             
In Laurens County, tornadoes rarely kill.  The worst ones seem to come in March and April.  When they occur, they tend to strike in southwestern Laurens County -  in and around the Dexter community.   On April 25, 1929, seventy years ago this week,   the worst one ever recorded struck the Dexter area,  killing two people and injuring two dozen more.  At the end of the day, the murdering storm had killed sixty persons and injured several hundred more in six Georgia towns.

In 1929, there was no Doppler radar. The only warning came when the  southwestern sky turned black as a moonless night.  The storm began near Cochran,  where five persons were killed and at least fifty were wounded.   It steam-rolled along a northeasterly course -  the way they usually go when they are up to no good - headed for a collision with the town of Chester.  Tall pines, which fifty years before had covered the sandy soil like grass on a football field,  were skinned like bananas. The Chester School, a substantial building and the pride of the town, was lifted off its foundation and dumped flat on the ground a few feet away.  C.A. Mullis, never had a chance.  He was killed instantly when the funnel sucked him up and slammed him into a tree.

(The above photo depicts what the tornado may have looked like.)



  The storm turned a little more to the north,  heading straight for the Mt. Carmel community.  Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, one of the most modern and best equipped church buildings in the county, was totally destroyed.   The Mt. Carmel School and the teacherage, located across the road from the church, were amazingly untouched.  Several homes in the community were destroyed.  The J.D. McClelland home and that of Mrs. W.A. Witherington were destroyed. None one in the McLelland family was harmed, but Mrs. Witherington, her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Milton Witherington, and infant grandchild  were seriously injured.   Jim Dawkins lost his house and most of its contents.

  Thankfully and most mercifully, his wife and five children only suffered minor injuries.  Calvin Patisaul’s house was destroyed. Almost  all of his large family suffered some type of injury, though none too serious.   Lee Floyd’s wife was badly injured when their house was destroyed.  One vacant tenant house and the vacant old Dave Fountain home were torn to pieces. Tornados don’t distinguish between occupied and unoccupied houses.

The storm picked up  in strength, rushing toward the Donaldson community two or three miles from Mt. Carmel.   The destruction of homes, worse than at previous points along the storm’s path, suddenly became deadly.   A nine-year old daughter of W.J. Southerland was killed when her house was demolished.  Mrs. Dan Knighton and her baby, living in the Southerland home, were injured and taken to the hospital.    M. J. Crumpton noticed the blackening southwestern sky near Dexter, jumped out of his Chevrolet (ABOVE), and ran to pick up the seven members of his family.  Crumpton then drove “like a bat out of Hades” for a few hundred yards to the home of his son-in-law.  After rescuing four more family members,  Mr. Crumpton drove as fast as could, but not as fast as he wanted to,  for two miles before coming to a settlement road.  He dashed through fields, branches, and ditches,  barely reaching safety, just to the very edge of the storm’s deadly reach.  The family returned to their home, only to find that  it had been completely destroyed.  Parts of the house, useless now and  only a painful memory of more pleasant times,  were found on a hilltop a quarter of a mile away.  Many chickens were slaughtered in the maelstrom - a fate which was only hastened by the swirling winds.   The cows fared better, coming out of the storm virtually unscathed, oblivious to what had just passed them by.   Two tenant houses on the Joe Donaldson place were destroyed.

Just before the funnel lifted off the ground,  it reeked a cataclysm on the home of John Knight.  Mr. and Mrs. Knight were seriously injured, each blown some distance from the home and landing in different places.   Mr. Knight’s scull was fractured, and his heart and that of his wife was to be broken forever.  Their baby was found dead, lying forty yards from the house  in a mud puddle, that had rapidly formed in the freshet accompanying the storm.  The brick pillars and the chimney of their house  were picked up and thrown around as if they were small stones.    Mrs. J.W. Thomas lost every building on her farm,  including her house.   J.Q. Pittman also lost his home and just about every thing he had.


Before leaving the county, the storm struck the Greystone Farms (LEFT)  about a mile from Garretta.  One farmer was hurt.  A tenant house was destroyed.  The roof of the overseer’s house was snatched completely off,  like the lid on can of soup.   At that point,  the storm lifted off the ground -  headed toward Emanuel County,  where two were killed and several injured in Norristown.  Two others were killed further over in Emanuel County.   When the twister touched down for a third time, it became even more deadly than ever before.  Eighteen  persons were killed and many more were injured in Metter.  Thirty one  people lost their lives in Statesboro and over a hundred were injured.  Before it was finally over, four more persons were killed in South Carolina. Tornadic activity continued in subsequent days across the Southeast.

B.H. Lord, President of the Wrightsville and Tennille Railroad, the artery which had carried the life blood for the Dexter community for thirty or so years,  arranged for a special  train, which he sent to Dexter on the evening following the storm.  The seriously wounded were returned to Dublin for treatment.   Dublin doctors H.L. Montford, E.B. Claxton, Sidney Walker, and J.W. Edmondson rode the train to treat the  wounded in homes around the devastated community.   Dr. O.H. Cheek, County Health Director, worked all night with members of the local National Guard unit,  supplying the homeless with blankets, bedding, and cots.  Army trucks were converted into ambulances.   Countless women, with no formal training, became nurses - it  seemed the only natural thing to do.  When the comforters, healers, and those who just wanted to help out arrived back home in Dublin, they were greeted by over three hundred grateful and applauding citizens.
 
On Friday morning, when the sky showed no evidence of the previous day’s unrelenting  fury,  property owners and local officials assessed the damages.   B.H. Lord, chairman of the disaster relief committee, witnessed the mass destruction first hand, along with Red Cross chairman H.R. Moffett, Red Cross secretary Mrs. Frank Lawson, and treasurer W.H. White.   Two little children were dead. Twenty five people were seriously injured.  The seven most seriously injured persons were carried to the Claxton-Montford hospital in Dublin.  Many more suffered minor scrapes, cuts, and bruises.   Crop and property damages , originally estimated at one hundred and twenty thousand dollars, were revised to over three hundred thousand dollars.

The local chapter of the Red Cross sprung into action.   A national officer of the Red Cross arrived in Cochran in the late afternoon.  The disaster became the first test of the disaster relief committee -  one they passed with flying colors.  Calls from the Dexter City Council and Laurens County officials went out for any type of help.  Senator Walter F. George introduced a bill to bring Federal relief to the devastated areas of Georgia.   A local fund raising effort was initiated by Laurens County, which donated one thousand dollars along with five hundred dollars by Dexter’s neighboring city of Dublin.  Those amounts were nearly matched by local citizens with contributions from ten cents to the thirty five dollars and fifty cents given by Cochran Brothers Grocery.   The national Red Cross donated two thousand dollars for replanting the cotton fields.   Women from all parts  of the county  gathered together at the Chamber of Commerce to coordinate fund raising efforts and make plans for distributing supplies and necessities.  Mrs. Frank Daniel served as chairwoman of the Dexter ladies.

An interesting footnote to the story was the death of a young eagle.  Walter Prescott and T.R. Taylor were out on the T.V. Sanders farm near Dublin.    All of a sudden,  the befuddled and somewhat amazed duo saw the young bird falling to the ground,  mortally wounded by large hailstones.  J. Guyton Sanders brought the poor pitiful corpse of the bird, which had a wing span of five feet,  to the offices of the Courier Herald.

No comments: