By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Rodney Lowery will likely never ignore another tornado warning for the rest of his life.
He sat on his couch Monday afternoon playing Candy Crush on his cellphone, ignoring text message warnings of impending danger, a tornado warning.
He couldn’t have cared less.
Lowery’s girlfriend, Nikki Gates, called downstairs to him, yelling that a tornado had been spotted near The Mall at Barnes Crossing, just more than a mile from their Park Hill community apartment in north Tupelo.
He still didn’t care, recalling all the times warnings led to little more than anticipation.
Not convinced of danger to his family’s lives, he walked outside and found mortal fear and nature’s violence.
He could barely see from sheets of debris surrounding him. Taking a few steps back from his home, objects shook and flew all around.
“I felt the wind just trying to take me away,” said Lowery, 41. “I ran back inside the house.”
But he took one more look outside and saw something unimaginable two buildings away.
“When I was looking, I saw the roof come up and off that other place,” he said.
He saw shingles from buildings fly into car windshields.
In a panic, he yelled for his girlfriend to bring their 1-year-old daughter and 2-year-old niece downstairs to take cover with him. Gates also felt a panic over her family’s lives.
“I was just trying to find somewhere safe,” she said, sitting in the living room where they took cover.
Gates, 30, shielded the young children with her body as Lowery held close to them. It seemed like forever but lasted about five minutes.
After the tornado passed through, rain continued. Upstairs, Lowery found his ceiling ripped open and rainfall spewing down. His upstairs bedroom collected about a half-foot of water.
Damage to the home seemed unbelievable to the family, but it still didn’t compare to single moms hovered in closets with their children in nearby buildings, structures with roofs yanked off.
None of the buildings in the immediate area appeared habitable. Lowery and his family will spend time with his mom in Verona and other relatives until they find another place to live.
The storm system caused estimated millions of dollars of damage in the area and was responsible for a single death just outside the city limits. Nearly everyone in the Tupelo Housing Authority neighborhood said they still felt shock and disbelief from the traumatic experience, losing most possessions but keeping their lives.
Lowery experienced the tornado’s life-threatening brute force hopes to never encounter anything like it again. If he does, the former dangerous weather skeptic will pay attention to text message warnings to take cover.
“I bet I won’t push ignore on my phone again,” he said.