HOUSTON – Ten years ago, on April 27, 2011, the lives of many were changed forever in the matter of a day.
Two massive EF-3 tornadoes ripped through the area, one before dawn, and the other at around 3 p.m.
They left in their wake a path of death and destruction that spanned almost the entirety of the county.
Three lives were claimed by the storms and a fourth was actually killed, however, they were killed while in Monroe county, so it was not added into Chickasaw's death toll.
The total amount of damages that the county received was $530,263.62.
That day lives in infamy in the area, and many who survived still remember it vividly to this day.
Perhaps none more so than the first responders who were on the ground that day responding to the calls that came in.
For them, it feels, simultaneously, like it was both yesterday and a life time ago.
“It started at 3 a.m. with a tornado out towards McCondy, so we responded to that,” said Houston Fire Chief Jonathan Blankenship, who was one of the first responders on scene that day. “Of course it was dark and it was just going wherever we could hear that help might be needed, but we were able to help a few people out of some rubble.”
However, he said that the Houston FD's part in that tornado was localized to that one area.
Later that day, however, everything would change, as the worst was yet to come.
“Leading up to that afternoon, of course we knew it was coming, and the weather had mentioned it, so everybody was kind of tense, it was a tense day. When it finally started, I'll never forget I overheard one of the deputy sheriff's who was down in Atlanta area, and he came over the radio and he said that he could see the tornado, and it was a transmission or two after that he reported that he could see debris flying in the air, so we knew it was the real deal.”
While the tornado initially appeared to be on a track straight for Houston, it veered at the last minute and instead tore through Anchor.
One particularly hard hit area was Wilson's Curve. It completely demolished two of the three houses that sat in the curve.
While Houston was spared from the tornado, they received extremely heavy wind and rain, but when it passed, Blankenship said that radio chatter began almost immediately and it was not good news.
“One of the first ones I heard was a game warden out east of town near the Dixieland area, it came over the radio that he needed some help out there, all the help he could get, so that's where I went. I got to Dixieland Road and there was a huge tree across the road, and there was people from that community all over and I remember our late supervisor, Wolfie King hollered at me and he was by that tree, and he said that there was people down the road that needed help. So, several of us hiked in, climbing trees and found our way down through there. Our small team found a small girl and her grandmother laying on the ground outside what used to have been their mobile home.”
He said that the destruction was identical to that seen on T.V. after a large tornado, which is often described as a war zone. He said that he had never seen a war zone, but he felt that that was an accurate statement.
He said that the grandmother was dead, however, they were able to save the little girl. He commented on how odd it was to find them both laying perfectly beside one another.
The emergency services were stretched beyond their limit, and he said he remembers calling for helicopters or anything that could get there and help them.
“What we ended up doing was, one of our guys drove his pickup through yards and around trees and we grabbed the biggest piece of plywood we could and secured the little girl to it, and put her in the back of his pickup and came to the Emergency Room with her.”
Following the disaster, there were people coming from everywhere to donate supplies and/or help with rescue and recovery or cleanup.
Linda Griffin, Emergency Management Director, had only been officially in her position for a few months, and this was a day that she remembers because of the amount of support that emergency services received from people who had no stake in the county or anything, they were just there to help.
“We started having people calling and checking, wanting to know if we need some help, like Calhoun, Pontotoc, our adjoining counties that weren't affected. We are in district four of MEMA's 10-district counties, and I think eight counties were affected that day, so the one's that weren't were calling and asking how they could help. So, pretty quick we got people accounted for, or gone to the hospital if they needed it, we had ambulances come out of Calhoun and Lee, and thank goodness we didn't need them, but they were here if we did. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
She said that this day was definitely overwhelming, however, where many would have turned and ran, she stayed, and still serves to this day.
The scars left on the area from that day are still visible, especially for those who know where to look.
Wilson's Curve is barren save for the one house left standing, and the foundation for another that was never rebuilt.
The Natchez Trace has a spot, the width of the tornado, where trees grow crooked and one can tell something happened here, but they may not know the whole story.
That day was a dark one for the county, however, those who still remember know that out of that darkness came light in the outpouring of love and support from complete strangers that showed we are never alone in our darkest moments, and the angels do not come from above, but walk among us.