By Jeremy Pittari, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
A number of homes along Sones Chapel, White Chapel and Joe Smith Roads in Pearl River County were either severely damaged, or destroyed in a Christmas afternoon tornado.
The tornado, which The National Weather Service in Slidell, La., gave a preliminary classification of EF-3, struck just after 3 p.m., causing damage to roofs and destroying homes. Two homes on Joe Smith Road were damaged beyond repair and one elderly lady in one of the homes suffered broken bones to her face when the home crashed on top of her.
According to a release from the Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant’s office, the state of emergency was declared Christmas day for the counties of Pearl River, Forrest, Greene, Hinds, Jones, Lawrence, Wilkinson and Stone.
An EF-3 tornado is capable of producing winds between 136 to 165 miles per hour struck.
Codie Linden was visiting her family on Joe Smith Road for the holidays and had just finished Christmas dinner when she and her friends received severe weather notifications on their cell phones. Linden said she and her friends decided to step outside for a cigarette in spite of the warnings.
As they were outside smoking they noticed the wind picked up and Linden said she heard one of her friends say they saw a tornado coming. Linden said she didn’t waste time to look at the storm.
“I didn’t wait, I was going to get my grandmother,” Linden said.
Linden ran into the house and led her grandmother to the bathroom where she put her in the bath tub, with the rest of her family and friends following behind.
“As soon as we shut the door (to the bathroom) the house was gone in seconds,” Linden said.
While the bathroom is still standing much of the brick home is scattered across the property.
Linden said after the storm passed she went to check on her 86-year-old great-grandmother, who lives next door. Linden found her great-grandmother’s home had collapsed but her great-grandmother still sitting in her recliner with another relative on top of her, protecting her. The relative, Linden’s aunt, suffered a laceration to her arm, but her great-grandmother suffered broken bones to her face. Linden said her great-grandmother is receiving treatment for her wounds at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg.
“I don’t see how she got out of it alive,” said Steve Lott, whose father built Linden’s great-grandmother’s home 60 years ago.
Lott said that home survived Hurricanes Camille and Katrina.
Just south of Linden’s home on McNeill Steephollow Road Johnnie Lumpkin said she had a roast in the oven when the storm hit and tore off a large section of the roof. Lumpkin recalled hearing the severe weather sirens, and then the power went out. Within 30 seconds of hearing the storm on top of them it was gone.
“It was like the train was right on you,” Lumpkin said.
McNeill Fire Chief Thomas Calhoun described the day as chaos, as volunteer firefighters and other emergency personnel went from house to house checking on the residents who may be trapped inside, or injured. They found an apartment demolished to the slab on Sones Chapel Road. Only a corner of the interior wall remained where seven people had taken shelter during the tornado.
Richard Catron was one of those seven people in that apartment, his wife and kids as well. He recalled hearing the storm before the roof blew off the apartment so he got his wife and children to the safety of the interior corner of the home.
“We’re just lucky the kids are all right,” Catron said as he took a break from digging through the rubble.
A bit farther south on White Chapel Road several members of the Posey family were gathered at various neighboring homes celebrating the holiday. Steven, Steve and Mike all recall hearing the severe weather sirens and feeling the increase in air pressure, prompting them to get their children away from windows and doors. Fortunately their homes suffered mostly minor damage, but they had many trees to cut up and debris to place by the road.
Sandra Parker, who lives between the Poseys and Lumpkin on McNeill Steephollow Road, had damage to six vehicles, two of which were under a carport that fell during the tornado. She said she just finished a Bible reading and the family was about to open presents when the tornado hit.
“I thought the roof was coming off, but we were blessed and it didn’t,” Parker said.