Thursday, February 14, 2013
A tough few hours
I got the call at about 5:10 Sunday afternoon while finishing up some stories at the office.
“Hey Dad, a tornado has touched down in Oak Grove, so we’re in the hallway (of my apartment) with a mattress on top of us. I just wanted to let you and Mom know we’re aware of the situation and we’re taking precautions.”
I typically don’t go into a panic about storms. This was different. It was our daughter Emma, more than four hours away in Hattiesburg, where she attends the University of Southern Mississippi.
Andy goes to USM, too, but he was in Destin, Fla., for the school’s Mardi Gras break.
I hurried home to get ready for our evening church service. Pam and Emma were texting back and forth.
Before going into church about 6 p.m., we found out via a news update from FEMA that at least one building on campus had been hit hard by the tornado, a powerful EF-4.
Pam got Emma on the phone. She was still fine, health-wise, but sad. It was one of the five original building on campus that was damaged, likely beyond repair.
I made a quick announcement before church service started – asking everyone to pray for Hattiesburg.
As church started, Pam had to get up and leave. She was getting text after text from friends asking, “Are the kids OK?”
I stayed in the auditorium. The texts and calls started coming to my phone, too.
As I told numerous people Monday, when the phone calls were still coming, it’s great living in a small, close-knit community where everyone cares. And the concerns did not just come from Holly Springs and Marshall County, they were from friends we’ve known for years in other communities where we’ve lived.
We appreciate all of you. It was a tough few hours.
Emma wrote this on Facebook Sunday evening – “Thank you to everyone who has checked in on me. I am fine and safe at my apartment in Hattiesburg with friends. Please keep USM and the community of Hattiesburg in your prayers as we recover.”
The damage reports kept coming Sunday night via CNN, The Weather Channel and other media outlets. A state of emergency was declared. On the USM campus, Marsh Hall, Mannoni Performing Arts Center, the Jazz Station and the Ogletree House (the historic structure mentioned earlier) suffered the most extensive damage and will require significant evaluation to determine structural stability.
We also got a picture from Emma – showing her and a friend standing outside her apartment in knee-deep water. Flooding was a problem, too.
On Monday, the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency had received reports of damage from nine counties as a result of severe weather that moved through the state on Sunday. There were at least 63 injuries, two critical and the rest minor. There are no reported deaths.
The USM Foundation has established a fund for alumni and friends to support emergency relief for the university. To make a contribution online, please visit www.usmfoundation.com/relief.
As the clean-up begins, I’m very proud of my children. Both love their university, and they’re planning on being on campus to help.
USM classes will resume on Thursday of this week.
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