April is Mississippi’s "peak severe weather month," a meteorologist told The Clarion-Ledger newspaper Wednesday after tornadoes and thunderstorms began pummeling the state from one end to the other.
Great, now they tell us.
Panola Countians are cutting through downed trees, picking through toppled sheds and counting their blessings after flood waters and damaging winds pummeled the county Wednesday afternoon.
In eastern Panola County, high winds tore across homes east of Hwy. 315 and south of the Mt. Olivet area.
In that area, high winds damaged the most homes and property on McMinn, Rutherford, Joiner, Deer Creek, Shady Grove, Bibbs, Tidwell and Robison roads, said District 4 Supervisor Jerry Perkins, who was surveying the damaged areas Wednesday evening.
Perkins said the worst wind damage he witnessed was to a trailer home on Joiner Road, where winds yanked off most of the roof.
After the storm had moved on, residents drove the sloshy gravel roads to check in on their neighbors and kin, sharing the roadway with county road crews and TVEPA personnel.
Everybody who drove through the storm’s path had to contend with fallen trees and limbs, and flooded roadways. On Rutherford Road, an uprooted tree took part of the road with it.
Jimmy and Jane Clark were at home at 671 McMinn Road when high winds pushed over an ancient oak tree in their front yard, sending it crashing through a shed.
The high winds hit about 4 p.m. and lasted only about two minutes, said Jimmy Clark.
"I didn’t see a funnel cloud. I think it was straight-line winds," he said.
When the winds began, Jane Clark said she was trying to grab up the family pets and seek shelter. And then the storm was over.
"We’re just thankful nobody was hurt and it wasn’t any worse than it was," she said.
At 295 Rutherford Road, high winds yanked away the metal carport belonging to the Barbee family. The crumpled carport was parked across the road after the storm moved on.
Parked beneath the now-gone carport is Jimmy Barbee’s orange ’66 Chevelle, which remains untouched.
Jo Barbee said her husband, Jimmy, and her mother were home when the high winds began rocking the single-wide trailer home. While they waited out the storm, the winds ripped away underpinning and tore off the gutters.
"Jimmy told me, ‘I didn’t think we were going to make it,’" Jo Barbee told neighbors afterward.
In Batesville, some city streets were apparently unprepared for flood waters that overtook ditches and pipes.
Street Department superintendent Teddy Austin said rainwaters flooded Lomax Street and Thomas Street, which sit on opposite sides of the railroad tracks south of the Square.
Farther south, he said, a car stalled in high waters near the Hwy. 6 overpass and Quality Auto Parts.
"We didn’t close down any streets, but if it got any higher we would have," said Austin.
Rainwaters also swept through Riteway Cleaners and other businesses along Van Voris Street, said Riteway owner Bo Matthews.
"It comes in the back door and goes out the front door," Matthews said of the water, which rose six inches deep.
This area of Van Voris is prone to flooding and needs better drainage, Matthews said, who snapped photos of the damage and will keep them close by for city officials to see.
"Flooding and drainage is one of my main issues, and I’ve got my pictures for the next politician who walks in," Matthews said, alluding to the upcoming city election.
On Hwy. 35 North near Serta Mattress, flooding caused the Miss. Department of Transportation to close a small bridge until it can be repaired.
The thunderstorms that hit Panola County apparently pummeled much of the state, spawning a tornado in Rankin County that destroyed mobile homes and injured at least six people.
As those storms moved north, the National Weather Service alerted north Mississippi counties about the coming trouble, said Panola County Civil Defense director Son Hudson.
Hudson said he participated in a noon telephone conference with the Weather Service, which advised that the worst damage would occur in Panola County beginning at 4 p.m.
At the Civil Defense office in Batesville, Hudson and administrative secretary Tam Hawkins tracked the approaching storms with a weather radar downloaded from the National Weather Service Web site.
The storms cells that hit Panola County seemed to line up over Interstate 55, clinging to the interstate as they marched north. The most worrisome cells appeared crimson red on the radar. They were plentiful.
At the office, Hudson and Hawkins listened to storm spotters and volunteer firefighters report pea-sized hail, damaging high winds, and flood waters on Pope-Crowder Road.
About 3:30 p.m. a volunteer firefighter reported calm weather only to be warned by someone else that the storms would likely "redevelop" into more trouble.
Still another storm spotter reported on another report of a funnel cloud in Tallahatchie County.
The report of funnel clouds near Pope was credible, according to Hawkins, who said that warning came from The Weather Channel.
"We were lucky," Hawkins said of the storm. "It could have been really, really ugly."
Confusion over the severity of the storm trickled down to South Panola’s schools, where school officials were trying to grasp the weather reports while school children were boarding buses to go home.
"We were taking children off the buses and putting them back on," said Superintendent Dr. C.L. Stevenson. "After the National Weather Service cancelled the tornado warning, then the (tornado) sirens went off (in Batesville)."
Stevenson said the school district’s buses made their routes safely Wednesday afternoon and drivers reported only minor road problems Thursday morning.
Mt. Olivet resident Jackie Ricks said he helped cut apart a tree that had fallen across Hwy. 315 so a school bus and other traffic could continue on.
The same storm that knocked down the tree hit his family’s home at 39217 Hwy. 315, where it busted out windows in two bedrooms and toppled a pair of Cedar trees across the highway.