Weather Service Confirms Mississippi Windstorm Was a Tornado

May 29, 2015

A little more than four years after a powerful tornado destroyed most of Smithville, Monroe County residents are cleaning up from another twister.

Monroe County Emergency Management Agency Director Robert “Bunky” Goza said no one was killed or injured during the Monday morning storm, unlike during a 2011 tornado, which killed 17 people in the Mississippi county.

However, he said more than 60 buildings were damaged, with 11 homes suffering major damage and two destroyed. The West Amory Elementary School and two businesses suffered minor impacts.

Most damage came from trees falling on buildings, Goza said, especially in older parts of Amory.

“There are a lot of large trees that came down, uprooted or broke in half,” he said.

A survey team from the Weather Service office in Memphis, Tennessee, says the twister touched down briefly southwest of Amory. Then it touched down again for 2.5 miles while headed from Amory to the northeast toward Smithville.

Mayor Brad Blalock says the funnel cloud seemed to have hovered above the ground as it crossed part of Amory, explaining why just snapped trees seemed to be the main casualties. He was huddling in a bathroom at his house with his wife and son when it arrived.

“The storm came up without warning,” Blalock said. “The storm popped up, the tornado sirens went off, and the storm came through.”

The damage was compounded by heavy rains on Monday that caused street flooding in some locations. However, it was far less severe than what hit Smithville in 2011.

“For the next few days, possibly weeks, we’re going to be completely concentrated on the damage,” Blalock said.

The mayor said fewer than 200 of the city electric system’s 8,000 customers lacked power late Monday. Officials with the Monroe County Electric Power Association said about 1,500 of their 12,500 customers also lost power at one point, although all cooperative customers who could accept electricity had their lights back on Monday evening.

Marlene Mickelson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Memphis, Tennessee, said forecasters observed a severe thunderstorm with rotation and issued a tornado warning. Surveyors had yet to release an estimate of the storm’s strength Monday evening.

Zack Jones told the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal that he spotted the swirling storm from his job at River Birch Golf Club just before it hit. Jones was one of many working a chain saw Monday at the worst-hit house on Amory’s North 7th Street

“It’s a big mess,” said another cleanup volunteer, Will Fredrick. “But thank God nobody was hurt.”

For Smithville, it was an uneasy reminder of a tornado that almost wiped out the town with 200 mph winds.

Scott Cox, who owns the Smithville Marina, said the storm damaged some small buildings and knocked a boat off a trailer.

“I’ve got a lot of mess to clean up, but probably not enough to file an insurance claim,” he said.

He said he, his wife and mother were in their underground storm shelter after hearing sirens and televised warnings. Cox’s father died in the 2011 storm after he left the marina, which was undamaged by the twister, and returned home to be with Cox’s mother.

“I wasn’t very composed during the storm,” he said of Monday’s weather. “It brought back a lot of memories.”

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham said had briefed Gov. Phil Bryant and plans to travel to Amory Tuesday to meet with city officials. MEMA has an area coordinator working in Amory to assist with state resources if necessary.

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