Mayor DuPree recalls close call with Hattiesburg tornado

Mayor DuPree recalls close call with Hattiesburg tornado

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - "There was a house right here, and that house is gone," said DuPree.

Under a clear blue sky, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree remembers a much different day three years ago at the corner of Main and 5th.

"I've been through tornadoes, hurricanes before and this didn't look like it was going to be too good," said DuPree.

In the late afternoon on February 10th, 2013, an EF-4 tornado was making it's way through the Hub City, with the mayor's neighborhood soon to be in it's path.

"Automatically it was like flipping a light switch. OK, it's light right now and then it's just dark," said DuPree.

Being home alone, DuPree ran to his back door trying to get it unlocked, turning around to see what was approaching, quickly.

"I actually could see the trees and shingles and lights and all that and it was just building speed," said DuPree.

Fumbling with his keys, desperately trying to get the door open, he knew time was running out.

"As I got it open, this door shattered behind me," said DuPree.

Frantically trying to get into an interior bathroom, he trips over a vacuum cleaner as more windows start shattering around him. Finally he crawls his way into the only room in the house with no windows.

"I finally get in here and close this door and as soon as I close the door and I really had to push to get it closed. As soon as I closed that door, it just got quiet," said DuPree.

It's a silence only known by those who've been through the storm, one providing a strange sense of reality.

In that moment, his first thought was whether his family was alright. They were. Fortunately, so was everyone else in the city. By the time it reached his house, the tornado had already etched a path of destruction for miles. With his front door opened for him and not a single window left, once he looked outside, he knew just how lucky he was.

"I looked across the street and the first thing I didn't see was this house that use to be there that was gone," said DuPree.

Pictures from the air show just how close his house was to being gone as well. After coming out of that bathroom, DuPree says it looked like everything had been sucked outside.

"We found underwear in the tree," said DuPree. "Clothes that were in drawers, how did it make it in the trees?"

Although damaged, DuPree says the age of his home probably had something to do with why it and he were still standing. Surveying the damage in his front yard, it was a different story.

"About the traffic light coming this way you could really start seeing the real effect of the tornado because buildings that were there, weren't there anymore," said DuPree.

It was a narrow escape, which DuPree  wasn't so sure would happen.

"In my mind I said 'I guess they'll read about the mayor being taken up tomorrow in the news," said DuPree.

DuPree credits emergency services, systems and public response to warnings for no deaths during that storm. He says it proves what can happen when everything works together.