"I remain very grateful that, as a result of an f-4 tornado, that coming through South Mississippi and Hattiesburg, that we did not have any injuries or loss of life," said Dr. Rodney Bennett, President of The University of Southern Mississippi.
Parts of the Pine Belt remain affected by the tornado's wrath, almost one year after it hit on February 10, 2013. It destroyed some of the Pine Belt's most beloved areas, including parts of The University of Southern Mississippi.
The Ogletree House and the Elam Arms dormitory were badly damaged. The university's beloved rose garden was ripped away, and oak trees were uprooted.
Hundreds of homes and buildings were destroyed.
A mere three days before the tornado hit, Dr. Bennett became President of USM. He immediately put on his work boots, and got to work.
He says he found strength from within to steer the university towards a new chapter.
"You have to believe in your ability to make a decision and to trust yourself and to be confident enough with yourself, not in a place of arrogance or pridefulness, but to be able to trust in your ability to make a decision. And for me, that comes from a place of great faith in my own personal walk that I do as often-- as I can daily-- and sometimes three or four times during the day," Bennett said.
He adds that every day presents new obstacles.
"Yeah, some days it does feel overwhelming," Bennett said.
"What gets us through it is the belief we have in our people-- The belief we have in our faculty and staff and students."
Since the tornado hit, he says they've made great strides.
Thousands of donors contributed $2 million in relief efforts, a thousand volunteers participated in a student-led cleanup, reconstruction has begun on the Ogletree House, which is home of the alumni association, and the Mississippi Legislature provided $1.1 million to the school of music for instrument repair.