April in Georgia isn’t just about spring flowers and warmer temperatures, for many turning the pages of the calendar is a call to prepare for tornado season. Some of the worst tornadoes in the state’s history occur ed 80 years ago.
On April 2,1936 the south Georgia town of Cordele was hit with a devastating series of twisters.
The strong winds tore through Alabama, Florida, North Carolina as well as Georgia that day. In the aftermath 23 were left dead in Cordele and 289 buildings were severely damaged. At the time officials estimated the damage at $3 million. That would be about $51 million in today’s dollars according to the Bureau of Labor Statics.
Tornadoes that day also hit Athens, Dawson, Leesburg, Lincolnton, Sasser, Tignal and Washington.
Local officials commented that the two-mile swath of destruction tore down “the nicest homes in town” as well as the slums. A new baseball stadium, dedicated only the day before, was converted into a hospital to take care of those unable to find room at other Cordele hospitals. The Cordele city manager estimated as many as 400 people were injured.
Two infantry companies and five doctors of the Georgia national guard were dispatched to Cordele by orders of Governor Eugene Talmadge to provide for the refugees and aid the injured.
Both the senior and junior high school buildings were practically destroyed but the tornado struck more than an hour before school was to start.
The twister hit the southwestern part of town, populated mostly by black resident, and ripped through town toward the northeast. There was practically little damage in the business section, the tragedy having taken its major toll in the residential areas.
The tornadoes came with heavy rains which raised southeastern rivers to threatening proportions.
Four days later an even worse disaster nearly wiped out the town of Gainesville. Skies were black for 40 miles around the region that morning. Many schools in neighboring counties were dismissed and students were sent home on foot. Weather analysts said it was an EF4 on a scale where EF5 is the highest.
Despite the devastation, Cordele isn’t considered a high risk tornado area. Since 1950 there have been 96 recorded tornadoes in Cordele. And most years the town sees about two tornadoes, according to national stats.