Three EF-1 tornadoes touch down in George County

Singing River Electric Power Association  journeyman Chason Whatley (right) and Foreman Gary Allgood prepare a new pole before setting it. Three tornados caused extensive damage throughout George County on April 23.

   Clifton Thaggard knew the plans for his day had just taken a different turn when a tree limb came flying through his kitchen window early Thursday morning.

   Thunderstorms and the possibility of severe weather had been predicted. The gusty winds and rain began about 4:30 a.m. and gradually got worse. Shortly after 6 a.m. the winds got a lot worse.

   “The windows began rattling and then the limb came through the window. My wife freaked out,” Thaggard, who lives in the Cochran Town community said. “I knew what it was.”

   This was just the beginning for a day that saw at least six separate tornadoes sweep across Mississippi, including three separate EF-1 tornadoes in George County, according to the National Weather Service storm survey.

   For Joey Howard, who lives just up the road about half a mile from Thaggard, it was even more frightening.

   “I had just left home to go to work,” Howard said. “I turned onto Cochran Town Road and within about a half a mile it was raining so hard I couldn’t see. The wind was blowing hard and I turned around to go back home.”

   A few hundred yards later, a huge old oak tree, with about a three-foot trunk diameter fell down alongside the road just as Howard was going by. A short distance later a limb came flying down into the road in front of him. He jumped out of his truck and pulled it out of the way. Creeping back towards his house another tree fell, this time in front of him, and then one fell behind him, trapping him on the roadway. He finally got out of his truck and walked the rest of the way home through the wind and the rain. A huge old oak, this one about four feet or more in diameter that had stood across the road from his house was stretched out across the road and into his yard.

   Even before the rain had stopped as the storm moved out of the area, Howard and Thaggard became a part of a neighborhood crew that began clearing the roadways. That crew included Arnold Thaggard, James Thaggard, Raymond Swain, Chris Rouse and Markie Mixon.

   “That is just what we do out here,” said Arnold Thaggard, explaining why they were cleaning up the debris. "We will do more as a small tight knit community and neighborhood like we always have and always will."

   Trees and limbs were down everywhere in about a two to three square mile area that included parts of Cochran Town Road, Merrill Road and Crossroads. Miraculously, of the roughly two dozen or so homes in that area, only minor damage occurred to homes or buildings.

   According to the National Weather Service, the tornado first touched down just east of Hwy. 63 on Inland Beach Road. It continued east across Beaver Dam Road in Lucedale and finally lifted at about Jones Road, leaving uprooted hardwoods, snapped off pines and minor damage to homes in its 2.3 miles long and 200-yard-wide path.

   The worst damage occurred in the Rocky Creek area. Within five minutes of the Lucedale tornado, a second EF-1 twister touched down briefly just west of Passeau Road and continued four-tenths of a mile across Rocky Creek Road.

   Only 50 yards wide, it caused heavy damage to a mobile home at the intersection of Rocky Creek and David Wade roads, according to the NWS survey. This included removing the roof, resulting in the walls collapsing. Several pine trees were also snapped off.

   Just as that tornado lifted, yet a third one touched down just west of Hwy. 98 and traveled east, paralleling just north of Old Mobile Highway and Gordon Road. The tornado, also an EF-1, tracking across about 1.5 miles and an estimated 250 yards wide, finally lifted near Odom Road.

   This tornado resulted in significant tree damage, snapping a large number of pine trees. Numerous large oak trees were uprooted. The downed trees produced damage to homes in the area and other homes suffered shingle and roof damage. A church at the split between Old Mobile Highway and Gordon Road sustained roof damage. A travel trailer parked near Old Mobile Highway was flipped, resulting in a minor injury to one person.

   "First, I must thank all the residents and volunteers who came out to help with the initial storm clean-up,” said District One Supervisor Frankie Massey. “I could not have done it without everyone's help, especially Rocky Creek VFD, Sheriff's Department, Supervisor Cochran and Supervisor McDonald’s road crews, Singing River Electric linemen crews, County EMA Director Nancy Smith and, of course, the hard-working Beat 1 Road Crew.

   “As of Monday evening (April 27), we have collected and moved more than 275 dump truck loads of storm debris,” Massey continued.    “I had to bring in extra heavy equipment and operators to handle the demand.

   “Local volunteer Mike Courtney was vital with his equipment and expertise helping residents and neighbors clean up their property at no charge. I also really appreciate Adam Dixon from the Neely community in Greene County bringing down his bulldozer and donating his time for our residents.

   “The hardest hit area was around Gordon Road and Old Mobile Highway off Rocky Creek Road. I had to temporarily close parts of Rocky Creek Road for debris clean-up and to give electric power crews room to work.  There was a combination of home and barn storm debris, along with a huge amount of tree and vegetation debris.

   “We had all the major and minor roads cleared and reopened the day after the tornadoes, but had to work through the entire weekend to keep up with the debris piles.   

   “It really is hard to believe how much debris was created in such a short amount of time,” he said. “Everyone is just so grateful we didn't have any major injuries."

   In all, two mobile homes were destroyed, five structures were heavily damaged and other homes suffered minor damage. These are all homes, one church and one business and does not include the damage to outbuildings such as barns, sheds and workshops. Hundreds of trees were also destroyed in the estimated seven minutes it took the three tornadoes to do their work.

   In addition to the wind, torrential rains drenched the area with unofficial totals of four to five inches reported.

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