Devastation in Mississippi

Two of our teachers from Holy Family School were among those who lost homes during the storms that ravaged Holly Springs. MS, just before Christmas.
Two of our teachers from Holy Family School were among those who lost homes during the storms that ravaged Holly Springs. MS, just before Christmas.

Many displaced by December storms

Laura Grisham of Sacred Heart Southern Missions shares the following:

The aroma of spruce hung heavy in the air Sunday morning. A chorus of chain saws sang a sad tune as they cut through the mangled remains of trees and bushes in Holly Springs along Rising Star, Jennifer and Karen roads.

Piles of tree limbs, boards and shingles lined the streets where families, neighbors and volunteers had begun clean up efforts in the aftermath of the Dec. 23 tornado. Pink housing insulation dotted the landscape like cotton in a field. Few trees were left standing. It was as if a giant machete had lopped them off just a few feet from the ground. A large limb, nearly six inches around and several feet long, had been driven into the shoulder of the road. It served as a chilling reminder of the brute force of Mother Nature.

Driving through the impacted area southeast of town, less than two miles from of our social service office, one could only imagine what was going through the minds of these people as the storm roared through. It must have been sheer terror. And the tornado was only the beginning of the nightmare. In less than three minutes, what some had spent their lives working for, had completely disappeared.

Along Rising Star Road, several homes were reduced to little more than matchsticks. One family was left with nothing more than a concrete slab. For the lucky ones, plywood and blue roofing tarps served as bandages on the open wounds left by the furious winds. One street over, a man sat on what remained of his front porch, simply shaking his head. Though one side of his home seemed unscathed, the other half was missing exterior walls and the sunlight poured into the roofless shell. His neighbor was not so lucky. Half of his the home was gone. A few walls and a couch in the front yard were the only things left.

The west side of Holly Springs fared no better. Little more than a half-mile west of the town’s Walmart Supercenter, both sides of Highway 7 showed evidence of the tornado. The south side took the brunt of the storm. Cars slowed to let heavy equipment crisscross the street, allowing the drivers to take in the unbelievable devastation.

Our Sacred Heart family did not escape the heartbreak. Two teachers from Holy Family School suffered significant damage during the tornado. Mrs. Sherrie Rayford’s roof was severely damaged and her daughter’s home next door was completely destroyed. Mrs. Jane Maule’s home and at least three students at the school were also affected. St. Joseph’s Church suffered damage to the electrical wires and panels. Repairs are expected to take about a month to complete at a cost of nearly $50,000. The church will continue to celebrate mass and conduct daytime business “off-grid” until the repairs are made.

The half-mile-wide wedge-shaped tornado, with a rating of EF4 by the National Weather Service, cut a 150-plus mile path of destruction from Clarksdale, Miss., northeast to Selmer, Tenn. Eleven people were confirmed dead in Mississippi, including six in Benton County, one in Tippah and two in Marshall County.

According to Marshall County Emergency Management, as of Monday, Dec. 28, there were 185 homes and eight businesses confirmed damaged, with more than half suffering major damage or complete destruction. They expect that this number will rise in the coming days as those homeowners with less severe damage make their reports.


The December 23 storms ravaged Holly Springs
Everything in the storm’s path was damaged

Starting over

From the very minute after the powerful storm rolled through town, an all-out recovery effort began. Emergency workers and volunteers from all over the Mid-South and beyond descended upon the area in droves, searching out those who needed assistance.

The local community center was established as a hub for those affected. Donations of clothing, food and other necessities were being collected, sorted and distributed there. The Red Cross and Salvation Army provided shelter at the onset of the situation and they continue to provide meals each day.

With the assistance of the Mississippi Knights of Columbus, a volunteer reception center was set up near the center of town to coordinate and document the relief effort. Knights have been on staff soliciting and dispatching volunteer crews to particularly hard-hit areas since Christmas Day. These teams have helped remove downed trees and debris, clean up water-damaged interiors and installed tarps on roofs to protect still-livable homes from further damage. SHSM is providing housing for some of the volunteers.

Power has been restored in all places that are safe to receive it. It will take time to make repairs and restore lines to those impacted and it will depend on the individual situations. FEMA has set up an office at Holly Springs City Hall to facilitate claims.

Sacred Heart Southern Missions staff in Holly Springs met with first responders, the Red Cross, a local alderman and the mayor to assess immediate needs on Christmas Eve. Since then, clients have begun to seek our assistance. Most of them have emergency shelter, either with family members or at one of the local motels. We have provided food and clothing and some prescription replacement costs. Extra Angel Tree gifts were also provided for a Christmas party given for the children who were displaced. The Garden Cafe remains open twice a week for those needing a hot meal. The Red Cross will remain in service for another week or so. After that, we expect an influx of people who will need some type of shelter. As clients find housing, we will assist with deposits and utility connect fees, as well as other immediate needs.

The volunteer program has already begun to receive calls from groups wanting to assist with clean up and repair efforts. The first one arrives next week.

Anyone wishing to contribute to recovery efforts should contact SHSM Donor Services at 800-232-9079.