Friday, May 05, 2017

Killer Tornadoes of May 5, 1933

Two devastating tornadoes were responsible for 25 deaths and 227 injuries in Central Alabama in the predawn hours of May 5, 1933. 

The first was an F3 tornado which touched down at 12:20 a.m. and moved through Choctaw, Sumter, and Marengo counties, killing four and injuring 27 people along its 35 mile long path. Three of the fatalities occurred at Demopolis in Marengo County where 50 homes were destroyed. 

Unidentified Survivors of Helena Tornado, Photo: Army Air Corps

The second tornado touched down around 2:30 a.m. and moved through Bibb and Shelby counties along a 35 mile long path.  This tornado had damage consistent with an F4 rating and was responsible for 21 deaths and 200 injuries.  Hardest hit was the Shelby County town of Helena. There 14 were killed and 150 were injured.  Five were killed in Brent in Bibb County and one was killed in the Colemont community. 

May 1933, Helena, Alabama Tornado Damage Path, Army Air Corps
The photos above were taken by a pilot with the U.S. Army Air Corps and can be seen in the Helena Museum.  Most of the town of Helena was directly impacted by the tornado and the Helena Depot was one of the few buildings that survived.

The Shelby County Reporter had this to say about the disaster in Helena in its September 9, 1972 edition:

"Roaring out of the southwest at a little past three o'clock in the morning this deadly tornado killed 20 people and caused a vast amount of property damage and human misery. The tornado's having come at night made the visitation more terrifying. Most of the people were asleep in their beds or had been awakened just as their homes were being swept away. Many found themselves buried under the ruins of their homes and had to wait for relief to come. Torrents of rain poured down following the storm. Ambulances from Birmingham responded as promptly as possible, but fallen trees and debris hampered the work of relief."

Laura Brookhart wrote a very good artcle on the tornado in the September 10, 2012 edition of the Shelby County Reporter.  Here is an excerpt:

I was crouching in a second story middle room with my brother and sister. My brother told me not to look up, but I did,” Paty said. That was her last memory until she awoke in a field, holding her brother’s hand. She estimates they were some 25 feet from where their home once stood. “We were all in our pajamas. My sister escaped without a scratch. We went for help.” Though she did not realize it, Paty had a gash in her cheek that ‘four fingers could be inserted into’ and her hair had been torn out. “Our home was leveled. The only things we were able to salvage were one chair with no legs, a table and a radio.”
If you have photos, memories, or other information to share about this disaster, please email those to me at  I can also be contacted via Twitter @Bamawx or on my Facebook Bamawx page.
NWS Birmingham Alabama Tornado Database
Shelby County Reporter
AP Article
Helena Museum

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