Pine Belt Strong 5 Years Later: USM staff remember 2013 tornado

Pine Belt Strong 5 Years Later: USM staff remember 2013 tornado

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Today marks the 5-year anniversary of the large and violent EF4 tornado that tore through portions of Hattiesburg shredding through the Campus of Southern Miss.

"It was a Sunday evening," says Executive Director of the Southern Miss. Alumni Association Jerry DeFatta. "We were out of town and when we first learned of the damage, we came back pretty quickly. Just the feeling of hopelessness. Looking at a building that meant so much to this university was difficult to handle."

The Mannoni Performing Arts Center, the Jazz Station, the Fine Arts building and the Ogletree House were among those destroyed along with several other buildings.

Superintendent for campus landscapes and certified arborist Loren Erickson says within seconds 75 trees were destroyed. He says there was nothing left.

"I live right down the street and that's how I knew when it hit our campus," says Erickson. "I saw the debris coming out the top of the tornado."

Campus police declared a state of emergency of the school. Fortunately, there were no injuries to any of the students or staff.

Today, staff says that the storm became a "blank canvas" for them to come back bigger and better.

"When you look back at the history of Southern Miss. over 100 years," says DeFatta, "there is episode after episode of setback that our university has faced and every time our alumni, our students, our faculty and staff have been resilient."

Associate Vice-president for the Facilities, Planning and Management Chris Crenshaw says that since the storm they've had 18 building projects and spent over $20 million in repairs thanks to several donations.

"While we lost a lot, we could take that opportunity I think, to come back bigger and better," says Crenshaw.

DeFatta says that since the tornado, the campus is more weather aware and takes more precaution during heavy weather.