A Tornado In Hattiesburg Brings Back Old Journalistic Memories and Impulses

In August 2005, I worked at a newspaper in Meridian, Miss. during one of the worst natural disasters in history, Hurricane Katrina. I remember getting up for work that morning (I was the assistant sports editor so morning meant like 10 a.m.) and arriving to only to wait a few hours before the storm arrived. We knew it was coming, but we weren’t prepared for the aftermath. How could we be?

I remember how hectic newspaper life was for the month after Katrina made landfall. Even in sports. Every week there was a “first since Katrina” story. It was a crazy time that I never want to relive, but, admittedly, it was kind of thrilling as a journalist.

On Sunday, around 4:45 p.m. or so, I was working in my home office—like any good PhD student. Tornado sirens began going off, but they had been most all day long so I just kind of ignored them. After I posted the blog I had been writing, I went up stairs for a little catnap (another trait of a good PhD student is being able to take short naps and awaken refreshed).

The sirens went off again—this time so did the electricity. The combination of the two caused me to take notice this time. I came down stairs looked out the peephole—as if I had heard an unexpected guest knocking at the door. I wish it had been an unexpected guest. I ran for the closet under our staircase in the living room. We store all of our cleaning junk in there like the vacuum and brooms along with our bulk warehouse store supply of paper goods.

To the Top: A view of the University of Southern Mississippi campus entrance on Monday.

I ripped open the door and evicted the vacuum, and there I stood half in the closet and half out waiting for the worst. The sound of the wind got louder and louder (and by the way it didn’t sound like a freight train, which is what every person in the history of tornadoes says on the nightly news). It reminded me of the sound of a washing machine. Anyway 15 seconds later it was gone. I was fine. The apartment was still standing, and naïve as it sounds I just thought the world around me was fine too.

I was wrong. The world around me was not fine.

A car parked in front of Southern Hall on Monday at USM.

It still amazing to me that something that moves so fast and so unpredictably can do so much damage in so little time. It was here then it was gone. Scary isn’t it?

After seeing all of the damage to building and homes just blocks away from my own apartment, I’m happy to report that we were without electricity for 24 hours and that we still don’t have cable or Internet service. I’m happy I missed the Grammys on Sunday night (from looks of things on Twitter, I’m really happy). I’m happy that we have to take a detour around the hardest hit areas, which adds about 15 to 20 minutes to even the shortest of trips. I’m happy because I can see the alternative from my front door.

So I say all this to say that maybe I haven’t fully recovered from being a journalist. I still have this need to know what is going on. To see it first hand. I want to hear other people’s stories from the tornado—that may just be human nature.

I know this blog is a departure from my usual material, but this has occupied my thoughts for the last few days. I needed to share.

USM’s alumni house after a tornado touched down on Sunday.

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