'Pine Belt Strong' telethon raises $390K for tornado victims

'Pine Belt Strong' telethon raises $390K for tornado victims

PINE BELT (WDAM) - Thanks to the incredible generosity and spirit of the viewers and communities across the Pine Belt of Mississippi, WDAM-TV worked with the local communities and the Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation to raise over $320,000 for tornado victims with a special one-day fundraiser called "Pine Belt Strong" on Wednesday, February 1, 2017.

But as of February 2, the donation total has risen to $390,000!

The tornado, classified as an EF-3, tore through the Pine Belt of Mississippi in the early morning hours of January 21, 2017.  Four people died and more than 1,100 homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged. The tornado cut a 31-mile track through Lamar, Forrest and Perry counties and caused extensive damage in our community.

WDAM-TV, the Raycom Media owned station in Hattiesburg, MS, led the effort to put on the fundraiser that benefitted the Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation.  The foundation will assist with the long-term recovery needs of those affected by the tornadoes on January 21st, 2017.  Three other Raycom Media television stations in Mississippi and Tennessee joined the effort:  WLBT-TV in Jackson, MS; WLOX-TV in Biloxi, MS; and WMC-TV in Memphis, TN.

"For over 60 years WDAM has been part of the community and we felt like it was our responsibility to give back and support our community. The event would not have been successful without our viewer's generosity. We are in awe of their willingness to support the community," said Jama Killingsworth, WDAM's Vice President and General Manager. "The Pine Belt proved how strong it can be. We're in awe of the willingness of our viewers to support the community. We also want to give a special thank you to Theresa Erickson, the Executive Director of the Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation."

We also want recognize those who gave large contributions throughout the telethon.

Robin Roberts donated $25,000 to the cause. Roberts began her broadcast career at WDAM TV many years ago.

"You know when I first saw the news about the devastating tornadoes, my heart broke for all the many families affected," Roberts said in a special message to the Pine Belt. "Efforts to repair and rebuild are already underway. But there's so much more to do. I know first-hand of your strength, your courage and resilience. It takes courage to believe the best is yet to come and better days are ahead just like today."

Renee Dungan presented a check for $10,000 from Columbia Strong. During the December 2014 tornado, the city of Columbia experienced a tragedy similar to Hattiesburg and Petal.

"As Columbia Strong watched the aftermath of (the Jan. 21) tornado, the images flooded back to us," Dungan said. "The faces that had lost hope and didn't know where they were going to turn. The most vulnerable people. And as we watched that, it was immediately our intention to give back."

Also, an anonymous donation of $50,000 was given to the fundraiser Wednesday evening.

We would also like to give a big thanks to Rose's BBQ, Mugshots, Georgia Blue and Celebrations.

Other Pine Belt community contributions:

-Chain Electric: $25,000

-The First: $20,000

-Ryan Chevrolet: $20,000

-First Bank: $10,000

-Grand Bank: $10,000

-Warren Paving: $20,000

-Service Master: $10,000

You can still text RELIEF to 601-777 to donate. Text to give and Pay Pal donations will be open until the end of February. For more information, visit the Greater Pinebelt Community Foundation's website.