People of Hattiesburg rebuilding after deadly tornado - WDAM-TV 7-News, Weather, Sports-Hattiesburg, MS

People of Hattiesburg rebuilding after deadly tornado

Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT
Source: WLBT Source: WLBT

The people of Hattiesburg may be a day removed from Saturday's tornado, but now much of the city lays in ruin.

All victims can do now is focus on rebuilding.

"It was like a freight train coming through, the scariest moment of my life." said Jesse Cooper, who was at home Friday when a tornado knocked a tree through his home.

The house was his mother's before his.

"All I could do was scream and holler 'Jesus, have mercy,'" added Cooper with a strained voice.

Ryan Luethje's property wasn't damaged in the storms, but he's still lending a helping hand to the less fortunate.

He and a team of volunteers were sawing up a tree and throwing branches away from a woman's destroyed home while they told her to go to her friend's and take a nap.

"This isn't just a one-day thing or a weekend ordeal," said Leuthje. "This is going to take a long time to come back from.'

Dexter Stewart was among those less fortunate. The tornado lifted his house and flattened it to the ground, spreading pieces out over acres.

"We have nothing left, said Stewart. "Nothing." 

But he's still keeping up hope.

"My niece was trapped under all of this debris, buried alive for over an hour," Stewart explained. "It was just...I'm still shook up. I'm just grateful that God had his hand on them."

It's hard to imagine the word grateful being brought up in such colossal destruction, but the people of Hattiesburg are working to rebuild and focus on what they have right now - each other.

"Seeing what can be done in just a little amount of time is crazy," said volunteer Alex Milstead. "And knowing that we came together to do it, is awesome."

Groups like hers, along with power companies and government agencies are all working to clear roads, cut up trees and cover damaged roofs with tarps to keep moisture out.

Christine Woodland lives next door to Stewart. His house was completely destroyed, but surprisingly hers withstood with comparatively little damage.

Part of the house separated and the roof was damaged - she said she thinks at one point during the tornado, it was lifted completely off and then slammed back down again.

"I just hope the rain don't come back in again," Woodland said when we asked whether the tarp would protect her from the rain expected to come in later this week.

Crews with MEMA drove through to document the damage, hoping to receive government aid.

"To see if we're going to get declared as a federal disaster or whatnot," said Jim Hennesy, one of the MEMA workers analyzing the destruction. "And then that opens up federal resources that wouldn't be available unless you meet a certain threshold."

In the meantime, people affected by the storms will have to make the most of the little things.

That's exactly what Stewart is doing.

"Just trying to salvage what we can," said Stewart. "Finding our pictures and portraits, things of value. Just trying to maintain."

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