Hattiesburg residents remember 3rd anniversary of Feb. 10 tornado

Hattiesburg residents remember 3rd anniversary of Feb. 10 tornado
A fellowship hall was added during restoration of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
A fellowship hall was added during restoration of Westminster Presbyterian Church.
Lake Byron was expanded and an Honor Wall was added following the Feb. 10, 2013 tornado.
Lake Byron was expanded and an Honor Wall was added following the Feb. 10, 2013 tornado.

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Hattiesburg area is marking the third anniversary of the devastating EF-4 tornado which struck on Feb. 10, 2013. It damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes and injured dozens of people.

Among the locations hardest hit was midtown Hattiesburg.

Extensive damage was done to much of the University of Southern Mississippi campus, including the iconic Ogletree House.

"Almost all of the campus on the south side, the south half there along Hardy Street and of course, the corner of (Highway) 49, that was impacted by the tornado," said Chris Crenshaw, associate vice-president for facilities, planning and management at USM.

"Hardy Street was blocked off for a week or so, you couldn't even get down Hardy Street, the trees were everywhere."

"Everything was gone down through to Lake Byron and you could tell where the tornado had actually spun the rose garden, that's one thing I did notice when I looked that it looked like a crop circle in the rose garden," said Loren Erickson, superintendent of campus landscapes for Southern Miss. "You could see the rotation of the tornado (and) there were parts of the (International House of Pancakes) roof stuck from swirling around the front gateway.  We just tried to put together what had actually happened at the time."

Fortunately, the twister hit on a Sunday, so many students were away from campus.

But, most of them returned quickly to help clean-up debris.

"Our students got out and canvassed our campus and picked up everything you could imagine to clear our campus for us and it was just a unified effort," said Crenshaw.

That unity carried over into a community-wide effort to rehabilitate the campus and repair damaged buildings, including the Ogletree House.

"We ended up with over 18 projects as a result of that tornado, "said Crenshaw. "We did a little over $20 million worth of renovation and construction work."

"I think it looks pretty darned good right now, I really do, I'm proud of how it came out," said Erickson.

Just east of the campus, another iconic structure took a major blow from the storm. The decades-old, Westminster Presbyterian Church sustained heavy damage.

"(The tornado) blew out all 122 windows in the bell tower," said Steve Ramp, church pastor. "Once it got under the roof, it simply lifted the roof off. It was a well-built building, but it couldn't withstand a level-four tornado, it was devastating."

Ramp said the church had nearly $3 million in damage, but three years later, it's fully restored.  Church members even decided to expand it, by adding a new fellowship hall and an outdoor chapel.

"God is good and God provides and we were faithful and we were obedient and it worked out beautifully, it could not have worked out better," said Ramp.

Ramp also said he owes a debt of gratitude to nearby Parkway Heights United Methodist Church, which opened its doors to members of his church while it was being restored.

"We were able to look our their window and see our church being rebuilt and that was very helpful," he said.

Being helpful seemed to sum up the attitude of much of the Hattiesburg community, which rallied to assist victims of the storm.

And it wasn't just neighbor helping neighbor. People from outside the Hub City area also traveled here to help.

"I can't say enough about the people who came here to Hattiesburg to help us through the process, like they did with (Hurricane) Katrina," said Johnny Dupree, mayor of Hattiesburg. "They came in a took care of us. People banded together and did a wonderful job."

And even after three years, Dupree said he's still amazed that no one was killed by the storm.

"We had no deaths with an EF-4 coming through Hattiesburg, straight through the middle of it. The churches were not (having services) at the time, the young people at the University of Southern Mississippi were gone to New Orleans, people who had been in one room for whatever reason decided to go to another room and a tree came down on that room, everything worked where God was in the middle of this."

Dupree also said that Hattiesburg recovered from the storm so quickly because city officials were prepared.

The tornado touched down west of Oak Grove in Lamar County and was on the ground for more than 22 miles, before dissipating in northwestern Perry County.