MOSS, Miss. (WDAM) - 2020 was a year so many of us will never forget, even though many of us wish we could.
The COVID-19 pandemic comes to mind when thinking of the year, but for many here in the Pine Belt, 2020 was also a record-breaking year for severe weather.
Bailey Hutchinson recalls when the deadly EF-4 tornado came through the Moss community on Easter Sunday of 2020, exactly one year ago Monday. Hutchinson says she was home with her mother and siblings shortly before things got bad.
“It was raining badly, and I know we had rabbits, and everything and my mom had sent me outside to go bring the rabbits in and blankets,” Hutchinson said.
After that, Hutchinson says things took a turn for the worse.
“Momma started screaming to go in the bathroom, and we did,” Hutchinson said. “And then we felt it all shaking, it sounded like a train, and then it just hit.”
Right down the road from the Hutchinson family was Jessica Marie Spradley, the mother of Mason Simmons and Sunnie Hernandez.
Spradley sadly lost her life during the storm.
“I did not even know that there was a tornado in Moss,” Hernandez said. “I knew about the Soso on the Mathews side. But I did not know that there was one in Moss.”
WDAM Chief Meteorologist Nick Lilja remembers tracking the storm.
“We had a pretty good idea that kind of the worst of the weather was going to come from Walthall County, Marion County, and move kind of northeast toward Jasper and Clark county,” Lilja said. “Pinpointing where that is going to be is always the most difficult thing. We can’t really do it until something is on the ground. The most difficult part of Easter for us was knowing, unfortunately, that people were being hurt, just by being able to look and see how gnarly this thing looked on the radar.”
Simmons and Hernandez were not home at the time. After they could not make contact with their mother, Simmons knew something was wrong.
“I hit the intersection to turn on Moss and that is when you see all the blue lights. Like the road is blocked,” Simmons said. “So, I threw my truck off into the ditch, and I just took off running. It’s what, about a mile to mom’s.”
After running through trees and swimming through a creek, Simmons found his mother’s home blown over in a nearby pond.
“I already swamped through the pond looking, flipping trees, flipping the house,” Simmons said.
While searching for his mother, Simmons noticed that his cousin had found her.
“[I] Swam and grabbed her, brought her to the bank,” Simmons said. “And then everybody got in the mindset of cleanup.”
That tornado also hit in SoSo, and another deadly EF-4 and an EF-3 ripped across the Pine Belt in Bassfield and Collins as well.
Those two followed a similar track separated by only a few dozen miles. After it was all over, 12 people died and more than 100 others were injured.
“We sent four or five teams for about a week serving in just so many different places,” said Kyle Warren, pastor of the Jones County branch of the Venture Church, which was one of many churches helping with cleanup efforts.
Warren is a Soso native. He was able to help volunteers navigate the area to help those hit hardest.
“We took tractors and bush hogs and chainsaws and all sorts of equipment to help clean up homes,” Warren said. “Man, for me, you know it’s my family. It was my people. I mean, these were the roads and the streets I grew up on.”
Jeff Clark, the lead pastor of Venture Church, says the pandemic could not stop the church from helping those in need.
“We showed up to help,” Clark said. “You were trying to wear a mask in the middle of all the debris cleanup and hugging people and not knowing if you should get close to them, and so, we were learning as we were moving forward, and it just felt so good to be surrounded by people who cared.”
The Jones County Baptist Association made First Baptist Church of Soso a disaster relief headquarters.
“Jones County came and Covington County came and Lamar County and Forrest County and Wayne County and Smith County and Jasper County,” said PJ Weeks, pastor of First Baptist Sosos. “It seemed like people from all over the state then showed up right here in Soso saying ‘Where do we need to be?’”
Volunteers cleaned up debris, helped feed people who lost homes and even pitched in to rebuild in some cases. But the work is far from over, and the mental scars certainly remain.
“You know, we have a saying here that we say all the time, that we will never understand that Jesus is all that we need until we get to the place where Jesus is all that we have,” Weeks said. “And we had enormous families get to that place, and at that moment we know that God says he will be our strength.”
(Bailey Hutchinson, 2020 Easter Tornado Survivor) “It’s not going to be easy, but you just have to focus on what you know you need and what you know you want, and you have to see it through,” Hutchinson said. “You’ve got to put your trust in God, and that’s the only way you are going to get through.”
Both the Hutchinson’s and the Spradley’s received the help they needed in the aftermath of the storms, but even after a year, many families are still in need of help.
The Jones County Baptist Association says it continues to offer assistance to those who need it. Just call 601– 649 – 8114.