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Tornado rips through Shuqualak: Homes destroyed, 2 seriously injured in Noxubee storm

 

LeMerrick Hill stands amid the destruction of his family's home, which was destroyed during Thursday's tornado near Shuqualak.

LeMerrick Hill stands amid the destruction of his family's home, which was destroyed during Thursday's tornado near Shuqualak. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff

 

This still from a video, provided by Tony Sudduth, shows a tornado in Noxubee County. The video was taken in the area of Prairie Point and Deerbrook Road.

This still from a video, provided by Tony Sudduth, shows a tornado in Noxubee County. The video was taken in the area of Prairie Point and Deerbrook Road.
Photo by: Courtesy photo/Tony Sudduth

 

Tobias Jones, left, and his great uncle, Earnest White, sit outside the family home as relatives tried to salvage some belongings. White said he believes his wheelchair saved him from being crushed by the storm.

Tobias Jones, left, and his great uncle, Earnest White, sit outside the family home as relatives tried to salvage some belongings. White said he believes his wheelchair saved him from being crushed by the storm.
Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff

 

 

Sarah Fowler

 

A few hours after a tornado ripped through the small Noxubee town of Shuqualak early Thursday afternoon, LeMerrick Hill was on his hands and knees, picking up loose change and carefully placing the nickels, dimes and the occasional quarter into a mason jar. 

 

"We don't have anything left,'' the teen said quietly as he sifted through the debris that once was his family's home. "We're just trying to find something, anything." 

 

The line of storms that cut a swath through Mississippi and Alabama Thursday left one dead and several injured as tornadoes touched down in Kemper and Noxubee counties. Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said one death was reported from the tornado as it hit in rural Kemper County. Several injuries, including two injuries described as critical, were reported in Noxubee County, but no deaths. According to 4-County Electric Power Association officials, 3,955 of its customers lost power, almost all of them in Noxubee County. 

 

Although several Mississippi counties reported down trees, the most extensive damage came in Kemper and Noxubee County. The tornado destroyed numerous homes in the Shuqualak and Prairie Point communities, prompting Gov. Phil Bryant to declare a state of emergency for the county. 

 

The tornado touched down just after 12:30 p.m. and took a path down Highway 45 South before veering over to Highway 21 leaving snapped trees and power lines in its wake. Crews from 4-County Electric Power were soon on the scene, working to repair the damage. Law enforcement agencies from Starkville, Webster County, Macon and Meridian responded immediatedly. 

 

Shuqualak Mayor Thelma Jenkins said College Street received the brunt of the tornado's force in the city limits. Located outside the city limits and just past the paper mill, residents on Running Water Road were left standing on plots of land where their homes had stood. All that remained was rubble. 

 

"It just picked the whole house up," Irvin Hill said. Hill was inside his mobile home at the time of the tornado. Pointing to a pile of twisted metal and splintered wood, Hill said his trailer landed on another mobile home. 

 

"There used to be another home there. Now it's just gone." 

 

Hill and his son, LeMerrick, were not injured but Irvin Hill's sister is one of the two critically injured. "She's cut up real bad," Irvin Hill said. 

 

Homes on either side of Hill's home were destroyed and much was the same across the street. 

 

Across a pasture littered with storm debris, the home of Willie Coleman was still standing. Bearing a Merry Christmas wreath on the door, the frame of the house remained. Inside, inches of water pooled as the ceiling sagged and groaned with the weight of saturated insulation. Pictures of grandchildren, weddings and military photos lined the walls with banners proclaiming, "We love you grandma." 

 

Coleman's friends, Sandra Skinner and Marlene Horne, said Coleman was at the senior center the time the tornado hit and they returned to get a few of her belongings. Walking around the home, neither Skinner not Horne said a word. They walked outside without picking up any of Coleman's possessions. 

 

Standing in the middle of a field, staring toward a stand of large pines that had been snapped in half, they marveled at the strange beauty of the scene. 

 

"God is good, isn't He?" Horne asked. 

 

Up the road, a woman was driving her car when the tornado hit and both she and her vehicle were swept up in a tree. 

 

"I heard her screaming and screaming," Horne said. Neither Skinner nor Horne knew the condition of the woman. 

 

"They blew the siren twice and by the time I turned around the wind went, 'whoosh.' I heard the ambulance but I didn't know it was this bad," Horne said. 

 

Sitting in his wheelchair in front of the remnants of his home, Ernest White was still in shock after he was pinned against the wall by flying debris. His relatives dug through layers of rubble to free him. 

 

"I saw it coming, all right!" he said. "I saw it coming but it started throwing ice about the size of golf balls. It took all the windows and everything. About two minutes later it hit -- boom! And it snuck around, it came around, it circled around and squished the house together and then the top flew off. That was it." 

 

White seemed to think his wheelchair saved him from serious injury.  

 

"The walls came in, the walls came over on top of me," he said. "They had to come and get me out. I guess the Lord fixed it so I didn't lock my chair and so my chair saved me when the walls came crashing down cause the handle raised up and that stopped anything from crushing me." 

 

White's mobile home was sliced in half, with one half of the trailer standing and the other nowhere to be seen. His relatives were loading belongings in garbage bags, including a bag full of frozen meat. 

 

"I hate I lost all that meat. Everything in the freezer is just gone," Hill lamented. 

 

"I think there's a pork chop in those pines over there," White's sister, Lettie Clay, joked. "You want me to go get it?" 

 

Clay said that while the tornado may have destroyed her town, she was going to remain in good spirits. 

 

"It's done now so what are we going to do? The Lord blessed us. We can replace things. We will praise Him," she said as she patted her brother on the shoulder. "Yeah, we can replace things." 

 

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham is in Noxubee County and has set up a command center at City Hall in Shuqualak as well as MEMA mobile communications trailer. 

 

First United Methodist Church in Macon began feeding the displaced residents Thursday night at 104 Jefferson Street in Macon. The North Mississippi Chapter of the American Red Cross has responded as well. 

 

Seven counties have reported storm damage from the twister: Clarke, Clay, Forrest, Harrison, Kemper, Noxubee and Quitman.  

 

In Shuqualak, Mayor Jenkins spoke confidently about how her town would respond. 

 

"Everyone is truly grateful and we feel blessed that no more damage was done," she said.

 

Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah

 

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