Child missing; toll may rise
Wednesday, April 30, 2014 1:00 AM
The search for a child remained the focus Tuesday in Louisville in the wake of a powerful EF-4 tornado that tore a mile-wide path from south to north on the eastern side.
At least nine people were confirmed dead in Winston County by MEMA and many others injured. The mayor said he didn't know exactly how many were injured because the focus remained on search and rescue, not even debris removal.
Five neighborhoods were destroyed and the county hospital took a direct hit.
Many of the injured were brought by ambulance to Neshoba County General Hospital and emergency responders from here were among the first on the scene there.
Philadelphia Fire Chief Pierce Clark and up to 20 other firefighters, as well as volunteers from the county, assisted with neighborhood-to-neighborhood searches in Louisville and rural Winston County.
"It is emotional, but we're going to come together," Louisville Mayor Will Hill told National Public Radio on Tuesday. "We've already come together, so we've proven that. It's a wonderful place to live, and that's why I'm so proud to serve as mayor. We're going to get through this. I've had some emotional moments, but it's time to get in there, get the work done and take care of our neighbors."
Assistant Louisville City Clerk Wanda Hudson said donated items can be taken to the coliseum in Louisville.
"It's still a search and rescue mission at this point," she said. "When cleanup starts, it would be great if people could come help with that. But not until then. Any food or clothing would be appreciated."
The tornado tracked through the extreme northwest section of Neshoba County, downing trees and damaging several structures before moving into Winston. (See story page 6A)
Multiple volunteer fire departments from Neshoba County responded to Winston County shortly after the tornado struck about 4 p.m. Firefighters from Philadelphia Fire Department and Rescue 1 responded along with four Neshoba EMS crews, Central Electric Power Association and Philadelphia Utilities.
Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell said Tuesday that he was sending three deputies to patrol for looters in Louisville.
The Neshoba County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency Tuesday morning in a special meeting.
City, county and Tribal schools dismissed early Monday and Tuesday because of the threat of severe weather.
Clark, a MEMA task force team leader, said an emergency operations center for Winston County was set up at Louisville City Hall to help coordinate response.
MEMA Task Force 2 and 3 were running their operations from a command center set up in the National Guard armory in Louisville.
About 50 National Guardsmen are assisting.
Clark and up to 20 firefighters from Philadelphia were still in Louisville Monday night and Tuesday assisting with a primary search of neighborhoods.
They eventually worked their way to the Louisville hospital Monday "but it took forever," he said.
The hospital, Winston County Medical Center, was evacuated after it was hit by the tornado. University of Mississippi Medical Center, in coordination with the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, sent an eight-bed mobile field unit hospital to Louisville and several teams to help local responders assess, triage and treat patients.
"The hospital is non-functioning," Clark said. "It has severe, major damage. A neighborhood east of the hospital is devastated and a couple of neighborhoods south of the city."
Clark said paramedics from his department as well as Choctaw Fire Department and Neshoba EMS were treating victims in place in the field initially.
By Tuesday afternoon, the number of people reported missing was down to one, he said.
"There is one confirmed person missing now, a child," Clark said. "The child was reported missing north of Highway 397."
Clark said responders were being delayed by heavy traffic in the area, mostly sightseers.
"The biggest problem we are having right now is there are a lot of people on Highway 14 just driving and looking and that is definitely slowing us down from getting out and working," he said.
"We can't get to and from our designated search areas because of traffic and people just looking."
Clark said the search and recovery efforts were going smoothly.
"I haven't seen any chaotic activity at all," he said.
"Even yesterday [Monday], when the hospital was destroyed, it seemed like it was something that had been rehearsed. No one was running around screaming like you would expect. People were taking care of patients and each other."
Clark said a lot of the injured came to their command center.
"Neshoba transported some of the people from the scene Monday night," he said. "Some went to Meridian and some went to Starkville and other area hospitals."
By Tuesday morning, Clark said responders were still searching the southeast and northeast part of the city for the missing. That search was narrowed to the Highway 397 area later in the day.
"We have been able to clear all the way from Louisville city limits back to the Plattsburg area," he said. "Everyone is accounted for in that area but we still had people unaccounted for in the city of Louisville Tuesday morning."
Clark said the tornado "swept clean" a couple of neighborhoods on the southeast side of Louisville.
"The parking lot of the hospital looked like a scrap yard with all the vehicles tossed around," he said. "Some cars looked like they were thrown 100 yards into a pasture."
Man seeks shelter in
closet after seeing
tornado from window
James Kirk sought shelter in a closet inside his home on McCullough Road in Louisville after he saw the tornado from a window about 4 p.m.
"I had come home," he said. "The sirens had gone off three times. I was preparing for bad weather. I have a studio and the window was opened so I ran in there and I closed the window. By that time, it started sucking the air out of my ears."
Kirk said he raised the window back up and saw the tornado coming across the road.
"I ran and got into my wife's closet and rode it out. It was a total loss but everybody survived."
Kirk said he could hear glass bursting and things flying through the house.
"We had trees flying through the brick," he said. "It was not just like a category one, it was a severe tornado.
"It did major damage. The house stood up pretty well to it compared to everybody else's. I'm thankful to be here. This can all be rebuilt. "
Louisville's Mayor Hill on NPR thanked everyone for the outpouring of support, not only from inside the community, but outside.
"We're asking everyone to continue to pray, and be looking to see what can be done 8-10 hours and 24-48 hours from now."