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Rains slow county clean up after Christmas Day twister

Published 12:50pm Thursday, January 31, 2013

Heavy rain on Wednesday caused county cleanup crews to stop work for awhile until the thunderstorms blew through, but crews were expected to continue the cleanup in the wake of the Christmas Day tornado that devastated a portion of this rural community 10 miles north of Picayune.

The thunderstorms that occurred Wednesday morning made people here uneasy, as it brought back memories of the deadly Christmas Day twister spawned by a similar cold front that generated powerful storms within it as warm, moist air collided with a cold front.

County Administrator Adrain Lumpkin, Jr., said the county was having to absorb the cleanup costs this time. There was no funding from either FEMA or MEMA or help in the cleanup after the storm, although the agencies did lend assistance in matters other than direct cleanup of debris.

County officials said that 17 homes were destroyed on Christmas Day when a force three tornado with winds estimated at near 200 mph raked through central Pearl River County from just north of Carriere beginning on White’s Chapel Road and tearing a path to the northeast on past the county jail at Millard. It later touched down east of Poplarville and did damage in Stone County, too. The twister was one mile wide.

One of the hardest hit sections was along Sones Chapel Road.

The antebellum-style home of Ted Williams, high on a hill just north of McNeill, was also destroyed as the twister hit U.S. Highway 11 North and ran alongside the highway for miles.

An estimated 12 people were injured, but no one died, as the powerful twister touched down only minutes after 3 p.m. on Christmas Day.

Many residents were just completing a Christmas dinner when the storm hit and skipped along the ground through the communities.

Lumpkin said county work crews are restricted by state law on just where they can pick up storm debris. He said they cannot go onto private property and clean up. Debris must be piled on the side of the county road right-of-ways. “We can get on private property to remove debris in the right-of-way, but that’s as far as we can go,” said Lumpkin.

“We have just about got all of it. We will be completed most likely in the next few days. The rain has delayed us some,” he added.

The storm debris was being taken to the central landfill at Millard.

Residents hit by the storm were trying to put their lives back together. Lynn Smith and her granddaughter are living with relatives and trying to find a new place to live. She is not sure whether she will rebuild on Joe Smith Road, where she has lived all her life.

“It’s hard to leave. You want to build back. Your whole life is there. But you realize that you might have to move on and leave,” she said.

Her grandfather settled in the area just west of here, and the road was named after him.

On Christmas Day, the Smiths had just finished Christmas dinner and were preparing to pass out gifts when they heard the approaching twister. They just had time to get in the bathroom in the bathtub, covering up one another, and then it hit.

All that was left was the bathroom, and a friend opened the bathroom door to go out, and he saw nothing but sky. All that was left was a piece of the fireplace mantel, and all that was left on it was small Santa and three red Christmas stockings.

“I just don’t know what I will do,” said Smith while she sifted through the remains of her home. “I will just have to take one day at a time and trust in the Lord.”

By the first part of last week, Smith was investigating the possibility of new lodging for her and her granddaughter.

In another part of the community Sue Lott watched as work crews hauled off debris stacked near the road near her destroyed home.

She told WLOX’s Al Showers, “It broke my heart. It has broken my heart, not my will, but it broke my heart to see everything I had as a child and then as a grown up here just destroyed, just utterly destroyed in four seconds. And now it’s just a big pile of rubble. It means nothing to nobody but us.”

She told Showers she was looking for her father’s Bible. He was a preacher and he left it to her, but she had been unable to find it.

She told Showers her 86-year-old mother was “totally traumatized” by the storm, besides being injured.

Some whose homes were destroyed said they had no home insurance.

(Portions of a report by WLOX’s Al Showers were used in this news story with permission from WLOX.)

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