Terrified students huddled inside Horrell Elementary School late on the morning of April 30, 1924 as a killer tornado approached.
Teachers braced for the impact. Around noon, the storm crushed the two-story building on a 135-mile path of devastation through eastern Richland County and South Carolina.
Just before it hit, a school teacher prayed above the roaring wind, hoping she and her class would be spared, former student Burts Harmon recalled during a class reunion decades later.
“I saw the trauma and I know what I went through that day,” Harmon said during the 1988 reunion, chronicled in The State newspaper. “I saw people hurt and begging for help.”
When the storm had passed, four children were among more than 60 people across South Carolina who lost their lives that spring day. Children at the school were showered with debris falling from the second floor auditorium.
Today, more than 90 years after the twister, the Horrell Hill tornado is considered one of the worst of its kind ever in South Carolina – and in the Columbia area. About half of the people who died that day were from Richland County.
State climatologists at one point said the Horrell Hill twister rivaled massive snow storms, droughts, floods and hurricanes in its impact on the state.
The community of Horrell Hill, between Columbia and Sumter in Richland County, later rebuilt the elementary school.
About this series: The inaugural edition of The State newspaper was published Feb. 18, 1891. In anticipation of the 125th anniversary, the Palmetto section and this section at thestate.com are recounting each day how The State covered newsmakers and events vital to South Carolina’s history.