When tornadoes tore through the town of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Sunday night, it didn’t take long for communities to mobilize. Southern Living’s own Jennifer Cole (Features Editor) experienced the storm first-hand, and the response that followed.
The tornado struck in the neighborhood where Jennifer, a Mississippi native, was visiting family. Located near Hardy Street (a main thoroughfare) and the I-59 intersection, her family’s house was spared, but homes 100 yards away sustained major damage.
“We were listening to the weather reports describing the storm heading straight to the house. Power went out and thirty seconds later it was like a train about to plow through the house. My cousins and I huddled in the hall against the force of the suction,” she says. When she emerged what she saw was a scene across Hattiesburg: roofs blown off homes, power lines down, trees uprooted and snapped in two.
The scene was similar across the state — the storm cut a 75-mile path through Mississippi, leaving at least 63 people injured and about 200 homes damaged or destroyed. The bulk was centered in Hattiesburg, home of the University of Southern Mississippi (which sustained serious damage).
But before long, helpers began to arrive. Neighbors started assisting one another, and members from the National Guard began to help clear debris. Disaster relief personnel from Mississippi State University deployed, and The Red Cross arrived, despite the fact that their offices in Hattiesburg were destroyed.
Jennifer and her family joined in, making sandwiches and dropping them off for the volunteers. And the spirit of the Hospitality State rang true, she says.
“Every house we came to had friends, neighbors, and National Guardsmen on site putting tarps on roofs, chain sawing through falling trees, and helping people collect personal belongings from inside houses severely damaged by the tornado. Area schools are closed, and the students have been out collecting canned goods for affected families and providing general assistance wherever needed.”
That’s the Mississippi she, and Southern Living, loves. Our thoughts and prayers are with those affected, first responders, and those who will help with the rebuilding efforts over the coming days, weeks, and months.