On this day in 1974, 148 tornadoes hit the United States heartland within 16 hours. By the time the deadly storm ended, 330 people had died. This was the largest grouping of tornadoes recorded in its time, affecting 11 states and Ontario, Canada. At any one moment during the storm, there were as many as 15 separate tornadoes touching the ground.
The storm began over the Ohio River Valley. The first twister hit Lincoln, Illinois, at about 2 p.m. and, within hours, others made landfall over a range of hundreds of miles across several states. The deadly storm did not end until early the next morning. In all, it caused 22 F4 tornadoes, with winds over 207 mph, and six F5 tornadoes, with winds over 261 mph.
The worst-hit location was Xenia, Ohio, where, with little warning of the impending catastrophe, 35 people were killed and more than 1,000 were injured. It is believed that, had the tornado not hit after school had ended for the day, the casualties would have been far higher. In the aftermath, it took 200 trucks three months to haul away all the rubble in Xenia.
Brandenburg, Kentucky, was also badly hit. The town lost 31 people and 250 were seriously hurt. The entire downtown was demolished, causing many millions of dollars in damages. In Indiana, a school bus was pushed 400 feet off a road, killing the driver. The Tennessee Valley Authority suffered the worst damage to its power operations to that date.
In all, 50,000 people were directly impacted by the tornadoes. Six states were declared federal disaster areas. In response, many towns installed tornado-warning sirens in an effort to minimize future damage from deadly twisters.