Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

More storms

The storms and their aftermath continue to dominate our conversation, our thoughts and our prayers.

The latest, Hurricane Rita, brought tornadoes to Mississippi. I heard Sunday at church that one had struck Belzoni, where fellow Mississippi Press Association board member and good friend Julian Toney publishes The Belzoni Banner and operates Banner Printing Company.

Monday morning, first thing, I telephoned the MPA office to see if anyone had heard from Julian. A few minutes later I received an e-mail and photographs from Julian in Belzoni.

Three tornadoes reportedly hit Humphreys County late Saturday afternoon. Here’s his firsthand account as a journalist and community leader.

“Tootie (his wife) and I were following the fire truck in search of a toppled-over mobile home where someone was reported trapped inside. One body, we hear the only fatality from Rita, was removed from the trailer while we were somewhere else.

“We didn’t know what was happening in our neighborhood until we got back to town and found the destruction as close as 200 yards from our front door. We had to park about three blocks from home and walk in.”

He sent photos of heavily damaged houses, one just a block from their house. Yet they only lost a few shingles and three sections of a wood fence. Many power poles were down and they were expected to be without electricity for three or four days.

As far as their newspaper office, they only had a few leaks in the roof, “nothing we can’t handle,” according to Julian.

I wasn’t aware of the tornado that hit the Mississippi State University campus until I arrived at work Monday morning.

At least 11 buildings were damaged on campus. Estimates of damage at MSU climbed to more than $3 million on Monday.

About 15 mobile homes at the University Hills Mobile Home Park were destroyed. Others were damaged.

Also Monday, I received an e-mail from former MPA board president and another good friend, Patsy Speights, editor of The Prentiss Headlight. It was entitled “Katrina through Patsy’s eyes.” Prentiss is about 120 miles from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“Hurricane Katrina roared through Prentiss August 29 knocking out power, cell phones, cable and telephone service outside Jeff Davis County. We could talk to each other but not to the outside world nor could we get to the outside world for a few hours. A helpless feeling, yet we all knew what had to be done.”

Patsy said she spent the day of August 29 “watching 100-year-old trees tumble.”

“By 5 p.m. it was impossible to go down most streets without hitting a tree top, power line, power pole or debris.

“It was still raining, but not as hard as it had been and I knew I was losing daylight, so to capture Katrina in Prentiss I had to hit the streets. With power lines everywhere, I had to take pictures with the camera out the car window.”

“By candle light, I process the pictures through Photoshop, wrote cutlines and tried to put on paper the devastation of my hometown.”

Even through it all, Patsy counted her blessings.

“We all learned to survive and improvise. We’ve never been hit like this and bad as we thought we had it, when power was restored, we learned how fortunate we were. Our beloved Gulf Coast was destroyed and New Orleans was flooded.

“My home had no power for 13 days and no water for seven days, but I had a home and now appreciate those things I once took for granted.”

She also discovered, “You can cook breakfast on the grill and not have barbecued eggs.”

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