By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Melodie Cutshaw and her grandson and daughter had just finished Christmas dinner and opened presents Christmas Day when near 3 p.m. they heard the McNeill storm-warning siren go off.
She looked out her window and saw ominous clouds bearing down on her residence on White Chapel Road between Carriere and McNeill.
She remembered hearing that you should seek the lowest place, and she and her daughter and grandson ran into a deep ravine behind her home. But realizing that would not offer any protection, they ran back to her house.
Her mother told her when a tornado hits, open all windows and doors and she did.
Then it hit.
“It was just a roar like a train passing over you, and it felt like you were in a vacuum. Then the doors slammed shut. I looked outside and right when it reached my home it lifted up and passed over us and then touched back down. I had been praying the whole time,” said Cutshaw on Wednesday morning while visiting her neighbor, Anthony Craft, who lives at 489 White Chapel Road.
Right before it hit, the Cutshaws remembered their elderly neighbor, and her daughter ran to her house, and told her of the tornado. “She hadn’t even heard about it or knew that it was right on us,” said Cutshaw. Her daughter and elderly neighbor hunkered down in a closet.
Cutshaw’s story was one of many as a Christmas Day tornado, spun out of a line of thunderstorms associated with a cold front, moved over central Pearl River County. It was described as skipping. “It would touch down and lift up,” said Cutshaw.
The storm touched down on White Chapel, crossed Henleyfield-McNeill Road, devastated the beautiful Ted William’s ante-bellum style home, a landmark, just north of McNeill up on a hill, skirted U.S. Hwy. 11 North, tearing down powerlines, veered off the highway northeast before it reached the Millard landfill, and crossed the Millard-Savannah Road at Boggy Swamp Creek just east of the Millard prison, where 300 prisoners are housed.
Pearl River County Emergency Management Director Danny Manley said late Tuesday, while emergency responders were still pulling survivors out of their damaged homes in central Pearl River County, that 17 homes were severely damaged or destroyed and that 12 persons were injured.
Six of the 12 were hurt badly enough to be taken by emergency ambulances to the Highland Community Hospital emergency room in Picayune. Manley said he received his first call concerning the tornado about 3:15 p.m. On Tuesday afternoon, the clock on the Pearl River Central digital board in front of the school was frozen at 3:09 p.m.
Manley said that by 5 p.m. everyone had been accounted for, but some people had been reported missing right after the storm. “As of right now (5 p.m. Tuesday), everyone has been accounted for,” said Manley, who had set up a headquarters at the Carriere Fire Dept. to handle the emergency.
Fire, police, sheriff’s deputies, and rescue units and emergency ambulance services answered the 911 calls from storm victims. On Wednesday morning power company electrical workings were repairing downed power lines, crews clearing debris were on the scene and highway patrol and sheriff’s deputies were patrolling the devastated storm track.
At least one elderly lady reportedly had a heart attack, said Craft. Craft had finished his Christmas meal, and his sister called him and asked him to come have some Christmas gumbo, so he left his home about 30 minutes before the tornado touched down. “It came out of the field,” he said pointing to a field nearby his house. “It hit those trailers over there and the people in them were injured by flying glass and my neighbor, an elderly lady, suffered a heart attack during the storm. It blew out the windows in the back of my house.”
Manley said reports from eye witnesses said the tornado touched down sporadically. “Witnesses said it skipped,” said Manley. Cutshaw said the tornado was “kind of skipping.” It snapped pines and pulled up some trees by their roots.
He said it did damage along White Chapel, Joe Smith, Sones Chapel and Henleyfield-to-McNeill roads and a long stretch of Hwy. 11 from McNeill to near Millard.
Glen Harbeson and his family, who live on Henleyfield-to-McNeill Road had just finished their Christmas meal, and Harbeson had noticed that the over 100 prized roosters he raises on his place had gotten “awful quiet.” He said, “They usually are crowing up a storm.”
Said Harbeson, “I knew something wasn’t right when they got quiet.”
He walked over to his kitchen sink and began washing the dirty dishes left over from the Christmas meal. Then he heard it: “It was like a whine,” he said. “I stooped down by the sink and yelled for the rest in the house to take cover. I then walked out on the carport and my front porch was gone and my camper was upside down in the driveway. It was like some giant had grabbed it up, shook out all the contents and then slammed it back down on the ground. It was all over in 30 seconds.”
His front porch was gone, but the tornado left all the brick columns, leaning neatly up against his house, as if someone had placed them there.
Over 100 rooster cages with covers were gone, and most of his prize roosters with it. “I guess those alive will wonder back,” he said. Only a few scratched through what was left of their little tin-covered cages on Wednesday morning.
“We will rebuild and fix this place up again,” said Harbeson. “What else can we do. We have to go on.”