By Chris Kieffer and Scott Morris
TUPELO – Tupelo residents began in earnest Monday afternoon the task of cleaning up the debris and damage left behind by the city’s worst tornado since 1936.
The tornado tore through several areas in central and north Tupelo before exiting the city limits and doing damage in the Auburn community and beyond.
In the Joyner neighborhood of Tupelo, it tore down some of Tupelo’s oldest trees that had been spared by the 1936 tornado.
Shortly after the storm, the smells of natural gas and fresh-cut pine sifted through the neighborhood, which had gas leaks. Later came the sound of power saws as people tried to cut through the trees that were blocking the roads.
Eddie Hall was inside his house at 1604 Joyner Ave. when the tornado came through. It knocked out a post on his front porch, but his home remained mostly intact, although many of his neighbors had trees across their roofs.
“I thought it was the train,” said Hall, 68. “…It lasted a lot longer than I wanted it to, maybe 10 or 15 minutes.”
Jonathon Cotton, 32, had picked up his 2-year-old daughter, Alyssa, from the hospital child care center and arrived home at 1606 Joyner Ave. about five minutes before the tornado hit.
He and Alyssa took cover in a tub with a mattress thrown over them as the system passed, knocking a large tree across his roof.
“I could hear something twist, and it felt like it was going to pick my house up,” Cotton said. “All I could do is say please don’t let anything happen to me and my daughter. Don’t let me smash her.”
About an hour later, Cotton admitted, he was “still nervous.”
“I’ve never had anything like this happen before,” he said. “…My whole neighborhood is torn up.”
Greg Hamblin, 42, was standing in his driveway at 1404 Joyner Ave. when he saw the tornado that later destroyed his home and vehicle.
“When it came, we didn’t have 30 seconds,” he said.
Scarlett Fyke of 1408 Joyner Ave. wasn’t sure how her home was spared from being struck by the many pine trees in her front yard. They all fell away from her house.
“I had the most pine trees of anyone,” she said. “I must have had the hand of God on my roof.”
Inside her house, the twister caused the cabinet doors and the kitchen and bathroom windows all to open.
“I was in the hallway and the wind was loud and fierce,” she said. “I heard trees pop. (Afterward) you come outside and you see how lucky you are to be alive.”
Danyelle Gray, 52, of James Drive, and her 13-year-old son Marcus were huddled in the middle of their hall just outside the bathroom.
“I don’t mind saying it,” Gray said, “I’m Baptist and we were in the hallway praying.”
The yard was filled with felled trees, but the house escaped major damage.
“There was one tree that I always told family members that we needed to cut down because of the way it leaned it was going to hit the house during a tornado,” she said. “That tornado took it down but it didn’t go into the house.”
After the storm, Jan Pierce, 50, of Marquette Street, was outside working with family members and young men who “just showed up and started helping,” she said.
They were cleaning a path to another neighbor’s house. Her team also replaced a column on that neighbor’s garage to keep the roof from collapsing on a car.
“The neighborhood has been really good to come out and pitch in,” Pierce said.
Tawana Dejean, 38, and her husband, Brian Dejean, 38, arrived at their Marquette Street home after the tornado and thought everything was fine.
“Usually there are pine trees,” she said. “Oh my gosh, where are the pine trees?”
When they went inside the house, it was clear some of those trees had hit their home.
“It took out the roof of our son’s room,” she said.
“We can’t stay here,” said Brian Dejean, adding that they had been slowly renovating the home.
They planned to stay with her mother.
Carla Ann Hughes of Joyner Avenue had significant damage to the front of her house and the roof.
“I’ve got water standing in every room,” she said.
The good news was she and her children were safe in the basement during the tornado.
“I felt the air pressure change when it came over us. I actually felt it in my ears,” Hughes said. “We heard things crashing into each other, things hitting each other, the house tearing apart.”
She estimated that it lasted 10 to 15 seconds. When it was over, doors were ripped from their facings, cabinets were open and emptied and clothes from the laundry room were spread around the house.
“It is crazy, but we’re alive,” she said. “I’m thankful. God is good. I’m just thankful.”
Several broken trees rested in the front yard, but the Hughes’ multicolored bottle tree appeared untouched.
“Can you believe the bottles stayed on the bottle tree?” Hughes said.
Shane Ingellis, 27, was standing outside and watching the clouds, when he realized he needed to pick up his daughter and run to the basement of his grandparents’ Joyner Avenue house.
“As soon as we made it downstairs, it hit,” he said, surveying the numerous trees that had upturned or broken along the street. “It did all that damage and it probably didn’t last 30 seconds.”