MS residents tell storm stories

Joseph "Blackie" Sherrod lost almost everything to the Nov. 10 tornado.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | COLUMBIA, Miss. | November 18, 2002

Joseph "Blackie" Sherrod lost almost everything to the Nov. 10 tornado -- his home, his possessions, one of his shoes, his top front teeth.

Despite the almost total destruction of the place where he used to live, Sherrod was out helping neighbors Saturday, and not only helping them, but joking around with them, too.

"I've been working every day since this storm come through," he said.

All day Saturday, Sherrod, along with his friends and neighbors, cut and cleared debris that littered the whole south side of Columbus. This low-income, mainly African-American community took the brunt of the storm.

James Garner, who was also cleaning up debris Saturday, said he saw the tornado at close range. Garner was with friends at The Charley Smith Game Room when the twister hit just before 7:30 p.m. He and his friends knew something was wrong when the television in the game room went blank, and a loud roar outside sounded like it was coming closer.

"That son of a gun came clean up that alley, man," Garner said. "The roaring was so loud I had to stick my fingers in my ears. All you could see was a big ball of rain."

Garner said he spent the rest of the night and the entire next day helping get senior citizens out of their homes.

"I didn't even go to work Monday," he said. "I stayed around helping people. I mean senior citizens, because the firemen had their hands full."

"We had to pick people up off the floor to help them survive," said Cleo Lang. "Yeah, we survived. Yeah, we did that."

Despite the tremendous property damage here, no one was killed. The tornado claimed one life-and that was out in the rural reaches of Lowndes County, not here in the city.

Three blocks away, Robert and Annetrice Jenkins were cleaning up the yard behind their mother's home.

"We're like the only ones still left on this street," Annetrice Jenkins said. "It was scary. It was real scary-like nothing I've ever experienced."

Other than a little roof and water damage, a felled tree in the backyard and a smashed-up shed, the Jenkins' residence made it through the storm relatively unscathed.

But many homes here between 11th Ave. and 9th Ave. were either destroyed or damaged beyond repair.

The Zion Gate Missionary Baptist Church sits right in the middle of all this destruction. But like the Jenkin's house, it got through the storm barely touched.

Church member Gretta Gardner said only a few windows and the large cross on the roof of the church were damaged.

Community members were taking their meals in the church Saturday, as many have been doing since the storm hit.

"We started Monday afternoon," Gardner said. "We haven't closed the doors since."

Besides giving out food and clothing, the church is also providing beds for a handful of people every night.

"When it first started, we weren't really going to be a shelter," said Deacon Starling Jones. "But the community kind of demanded it."

Despite all the activity in the kitchen, and the American Red Cross truck parked outside, life in the church seemed almost normal. While volunteers packed up bags of toothpaste, cornmeal, sugar and toilet paper, just across the hall the church choir was in the middle of practice.

Indeed, life was getting back to normal in Columbus, said Brad Ray, a patrolman with the Columbus Police Department. Saturday afternoon, Ray was manning the city's emergency command center by himself. This was the first time since the storm, he said, that the room wasn't stuffed full of people.

"It's winding down now," said Ray.

While the south side and many other areas of town are still choked with debris, the situation on Saturday was nowhere near as bad as the first few days following the tornado.

Ray said he was called down to the south side just after the tornado. There was no way, he said, to drive a patrol car through the mess he found there.

"The only way you could get around was to walk or take a bicycle," he said.

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