GUNTOWN • Stepping slowly over splintered boards, twisted metal and low dangling wire, Brad Poynor opened his back door and stood among the debris scattered by a tornado’s fury.
The sky was overcast and weather cold Tuesday morning as Poynor inspected the task before him at the home he rents in the northern Lee County subdivision of Guntown Hills.
Standing just inside the kitchen, Poynor looked down. Soggy pink insulation and pieces of drywall covered the floor. Family photos, once on the fridge, peeked from the floor in fragments.
He looked up. The roof over the front of the house was gone. Attic joists jutted overhead, jagged and skeletal.
In a corner, the Christmas tree stood upright, a few ornaments hanging undisturbed. On the kitchen counter sat a coffee maker. Poynor smiled grimly.
“Looks like my Keurig survived,” he said. “I just bought that thing.”
Severe thunderstorms moved across the region Monday, leaving a trail of wreckage a week before Christmas.
No serious injuries or fatalities have been linked to the storm in Northeast Mississippi.
Poynor rode out the worst in a bedroom closet with his stepson.
“By the time we got the door shut, it hit. You heard like a cannon going off in your ears, and then we walked out and it was calm. By the grace of God, I survived.”
The National Weather Services confirmed damage from an EF-2 tornado in Lee County as well as an EFI-1 tornado in Union and Tishomingo counties.
Throughout the day Tuesday, storm victims picked through the debris and salvaged belongings. Friends, neighbors and community members lent a helping hand. Government officials took stock of the damage.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors declared a state of emergency. Most of the damage was in District 2 Supervisor Mike Smith’s area and he told the Daily Journal the area was “pretty rough.”
He added, “This’ll make you count your blessings.”
On Tuesday, Gov. Phil Bryant declared a state of emergency for all areas affected by the storm damage.
”We do not believe this will rise to a presidential declaration, but we will seek out all levels of support we can get,” the governor said.
MEMA officials estimate that 15 people have been injured, but no deaths have been officially reported.
The Salvation Army, Family Resource Center and Volunteer Northeast Mississippi are coordinating with Lee County Emergency Management director Lee Bowdry to respond to the needs of those affected by the tornado. An announcement is expected on Wednesday morning.
Guntown City Hall is also accepting donations of food, clothing and gifts for those in need.
The Lee County School District estimates 30 to 40 students within the district were impacted by the storm, and absences will be excused.
“There has already been an outpouring of help from across the district and Lee County community,” said Robert Byers, external communications officer for the district.
The school district did indicate, however, that school buses will not be able to access the Guntown Hills subdivision through the end of the week. Parents should contact the school district to make other arrangements for their children.
Even as Guntown Hills bore the brunt of the damage in Lee County, others were sifting through the aftermath Tuesday.
Beth Yarbrough, 55, has lived in her home on Highway 370 for 22 years. Her father was born there and the home has been in the family for decades. She was watching TV Monday when the winds hit.
“I called my mother to make sure that she was aware and make sure that she was safe. Then it just started getting louder and louder, and I could sort of feel everything moving,” Yarbrough said. “I got right here in this little corner, and within 30 seconds, it had gone past.”
In neighboring Union County, Emergency Management Director Curt Clayton said the Alpine area saw significant damage. Around 10 homes were damaged, and one home, belonging to Jackie Pannell, was destroyed.
Pannell was staying with her son at the time.
“Luckily, nobody was here,” Pannell said. “We wouldn’t have survived. I wouldn’t be talking to you today.”
Many of her possessions were in the home. She sorted through the debris Tuesday morning, but there was not much to find.
“Just little things,” she said. “Not much.”
Blake Alsup, Danny McArthur, Michaela Morris and Taylor Vance of the Daily Journal, as well as Josh Mitchell of the New Albany Gazette, contributed to this report.