Nearly three weeks after an EF-3 tornado struck Columbia, Mississippi, cleanup and recovery from the storm continues. Debris from houses and buildings scattered the city Tuesday, Dec. 23, as citizens were forced to accept the fact that a tornado had torn through their town with wind speeds reaching 165 mph.
A lengthy and strenuous cleanup effort was carried out on Christmas Eve in the small town of Columbia. Luckyday Citizenship Scholar Shanice Floore volunteered for the Mississippi Tornado Relief Fundraiser sponsored by The Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation and WDAM as an effort to help the recovery of the severe weather that hit the the region.
The telethon aimed at raising money for the two funds that The Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation collected for disasters in the area called the Columbia Strong Fund and the Pinebelt Community Disaster Fund.
After she answered phone calls and listened to stories from callers willing to ease the devastation of the tornado, Floore spoke of her experience volunteering for the benefit of Marion County and surrounding areas.
“One man called in and made a $100 donation in honor of one of his friends who was one of the five people that passed in the storm,” said Floore, a senior hotel, restaurant and tourism management major and Luckyday president. “He just wanted to give back and do all that he could in honor of his friend. Another lady called in and told us that she only gets $600 a month and she donated $20 of her only income to give back to the people of Columbia.” The telethon successfully raised over $218,000.
“The first group that I volunteered with was Columbia High School and these students have witnessed a lot and had a lot of stories to share. In Columbia, Mississippi, there are some amazing stories about faith and survival emerging on this Christmas Eve,” Floore said.
Victims still continue to salvage the remaining items of the aftermath, but are thankful to be alive. Other relief organizations exist in support of Columbia’s recovery. Columbia Strong has relief centers in town that recruit volunteers and aid in the recovery of Columbia.
“When I first heard that there was a tornado in Columbia, my mind went straight to my relatives,” said Gaqueta Alexander, a freshman entertainment industry-management major and a resident of Columbia. “I had just left Columbia 30 minutes before the tornado hit, and I was thankful that my family and I were able to leave before it hit. I remember turning the TV (on) and seeing my hometown destroyed. It was heartbreaking to know that an hour before everything was normal,” Alexander said.
Widespread tornado damage can be seen throughout the city of Columbia, Mississippi, after a tornado devastated the area Dec. 23 and caused two deaths and many injuries. Matt Bush/Courtesy Photo
Southern Miss students and graduates have volunteered in cleaning and removing debris on Columbia-Purvis Road.
“Columbia-Purvis Road contained an extensive amount of debris because there were storage units located on that road. The next day, I volunteered at a relief center that contained donated clothes for the tornado victims,” Alexander said.
Another response to the disaster was from the Mu Xi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., of USM. Families in need from Columbia were supported with the raised money from the fundraiser. First aid, Red Cross, and Columbia Strong stations were set up at Woodlawn Church and First Baptist Church in Columbia during the past few weeks.
Apart from volunteer services for the recovery process, utility crews made extensive repairs and cleaned up land of debris. “My heart empathized with the families of those who lost their lives in the storm,”
Highway 13 and Highway 98 along with the south end of Columbia were affected by great amounts of debris and power outages. The heartbreaking occurrence not only involved Columbia, but also a majority of the South that Tuesday and Wednesday.
The National Weather Service reported at least six tornadoes touched the ground throughout the South, leaving five people dead and 50 others injured. Homes and businesses were destroyed, cars were flipped, trees were uprooted and power lines were downed as a result of the disaster. On Tuesday, Dec. 23, Gov. Phil Bryant issued a state emergency for Marion and Jones counties. Marion County Sheriff reported that the tornado caused three deaths: Mary Jane Sartin, 71; Amber Sumrall, 33; and Mickey Hudson, CEO of Hudson’s Inc. and supporter of The University of Southern Mississippi athletics. The tornado was spotted that afternoon in Amite, Louisiana, before it crossed over into Mississippi and moved northeast to Jones County. In Jones County, sheriffs reported killed victims Leonardo Drummond, 45; and Josey White, 40.
Although the area resembled a crumbled war zone after the tornado, the efforts to recovery have made a phenomenal improvement to the situation.