MS volunteers reach out

Volunteers and local officials worked Friday to clean up damage.

BY TRAVIS DUNN | NEWTON, Miss. | December 20, 2002

Volunteers and local officials worked Friday to clean up damage caused by a tornado that hit this town of 3,700 early Thursday afternoon.

The tornado, classified as a medium-strength F-2 on the Fujita scale, caused sporadic damage for a five-and-a-half mile stretch, according to National Weather Service meteorologist Allan Gerard. Tornadoes in the F-2 class have wind speeds ranging from 113-157 mph.

The downtown business district of Newton, which lies 20 miles west of Meridian, took a direct hit from the twister, and a strip mall north of town incurred serious storm damage. A Wal-Mart, a La-Z-Boy factory, a strip mall and several restaurants were also battered.

More than 50 people were injured, and two were left in critical condition. No one was killed.

Initial damage assessments showed the storm destroyed eight homes and seriously damaged 40. Another 130 homes incurred minor damage.

Local churches were responding to people's needs. "It sort of hit us in the middle then bounced over a residential area then hit the shopping center north of town," said David Jones, maintenance supervisor for the First Baptist Church of Newton.

Much of Newton was still without power Friday, but power had been restored to some of the areas surrounding the city. Most of downtown Newton was closed to traffic.

At the First Baptist Church, dozens Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief volunteers set up a large kitchen Thursday afternoon and began preparing meals, which were then delivered to survivors and volunteers.

Ron Ferrell, a volunteer with the Southern Baptists, said his group cooked 330 meals for breakfast Friday, and another 550 for lunch.

A Salvation Army truck from Meridian, Miss., also served more than 1,500 meals since its arrival Thursday night.

Representatives from the United Methodist Committee on Relief as well as Church World Service continued to assess damage Friday.

Initial damage assessments showed about 40 homes in nearby Lauderdale County also incurred tornado damage Thursday.

In Lincoln County, about 90 miles southwest of Newton, officials determined Friday that storm damage there was caused by straight line winds, peaking at 80 mph, and not a tornado as some had conjectured yesterday.

Several trailer homes, however, were destroyed, and about 200 people were left without power Thursday night, according to Clifford Gaily, civil defense director for Lincoln County.

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