“The next thing I knew, I was on the ground with stuff all over me. When I got up, there was no walls, no ceiling, no house,” Willie Pierce said as he told the story of a
On Feb. 10, 2013, weather reports warned of an F-4 tornado. The incident occurred during the Mardi Gras holiday, so many students and faculty alike enjoyed time off with friends and family, as is the case of Pierce, a Southern Miss professor emeritus.
“(My wife, Carol; a former doctoral student, Giles Carter and I) heard the sirens, but we were sitting around and talking,” Pierce said. “It never occurred to us how serious things could be until I peered outside and saw the large trees hula-dancing beyond where the pool house used to be.”
Within seconds of that last glance, the lights went out and calamity struck.
“The steel-cased French doors fell upon Carol, who suffers from multiple sclerosis; the couch had turned over on Giles, which kept him from harm,” Pierce said.
The ranch-style home he resided in since the ‘80s was unrecognizable. The garage was gone, the front ends of the cars tossed into the backyard and nearly all personal belongings were lost in the tornado’s atrocity. “Everything was gone instantly,” Pierce said. “Only one segment of roof survived, despite the sheet rock being blown away. We were only able to salvage a bedroom suit.”
In the ensuing months, Pierce and his wife moved into a small two-bedroom home on North 23rd Avenue, paid for by State Farm.
“Our doctors said we suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for a while,” Pierce said. “It was very difficult.”
Pierce now stands inside of an empty room, well-lit and spacious. Wheelchair railings line many of the walls and hallways. After months of filing insurance claims, Pierce looks forward to moving into a brand new residence constructed on the same plot as the one which was lost.
After completing a home inspection within the next two weeks, the Pierces will move back to the spot they had resided for so long.
“We never expected to build a home in our lifetimes, but it looks like we had no other choice. We skimmed (various) home plans before deciding on a one-story that worked for us,” Pierce said as he toured his newly
The new home offers plentiful lighting, coastal-themed colors and even personal offices for the Pierces. The most notable aspect of the new home is its accommodations to his wife’s condition, which often leaves her wheelchair-bound.
“We chose as flat a home as we could and added railing to the plans for mobility purposes,” Pierce said. “I think we will be much happier here, despite our losses.”
While Pierce recounted his losses, he reiterates the most valuable possession he has is the community of Hattiesburg.
“Neighbors, churches, the university – everyone has been great to us,” Pierce said. “Dr. Susan Hrostowski of the social work department organized aid to clean the rental home before we moved in. Father Tommy, formerly St. Thomas on campus, helped us move. Nearly every church in town responded by providing meals.”
Carol Pierce, a former educator herself, also recounts the warmth and support received through those she has known throughout
“I had a Vietnamese student I had not spoken to in years who sent a check for $200 after hearing what happened,” she said. “The support has been everything.”