City, county, businesses, churches aiding Rolling Fork

Published 6:53 pm Saturday, March 25, 2023

Distribution centers have been established in Rolling Fork as residents from surrounding areas begin donating items necessary to help residents begin their recovery from the  tornado that smashed its way through the town Friday night.

One distribution center is at Sharkey-Issaquena Academy. the other at House of Peace Worship Church International.

“Our biggest need is water, cooked food, flashlights, paper towels, tissue and sanitary wipes,” pastor, the Rev. Linda Sweezer-Rowster said, adding ministers from other churches have volunteered to cook meals for the storm victims. She said a telephone number has been established people interested in contributing commodities. People interested in making donations can call 855-540-0720. “Someone will be there to take their calls,”Sweezer-Rowster said.

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One item they don’t need now is clothing.

“I’m sure that we’ll reach a point where people will be needing clothing,” she said. “But right now we’re asking for things that are needed immediately. There is no electricity and there is no water.

Sweeser-Rowster said she and a caravan of four other cars went to Rolling Fork Saturday morning and  were shocked at what they saw.

“The devastation was so vast. When we saw it our mouths flew open,” she said.

Sweezer-Rowster, who was involved in relief work after Hurricane Katrina and a tornado in Anguilla, said what she saw in Rolling Fork “was the worst disaster I’ve ever seen; this was far worse than anything I’ve ever seen. It was shocking.

“Cars were on bushes, between trees, just twisted metal. Trees, you could tell by the roots they had been there a long time, were out of the ground,” she said.

And while her church was still standing, she said in other areas “house were gone and you couldn’t tell a house had been there.”

She said two restaurants vital to the community were destroyed and the town’s Dollar General Store was damaged.

“I wanted to go over there and buy some supplies but it was closed,” she said. “We wanted to buy supplies from local stores to help the town, but they were all closed.”

Members of her church had their own stories, Sweezer-Rowster said.

One member, she said, told her when she heard the storm she took her children to the bathroom and got in the shower. When the storm passed, the woman said, “There was nothing left but us. The house had been destroyed.”

Another woman whose home was destroyed was at a fellowship event with other women when the tornado hit. The house where she was was damaged. Her house was destroyed.

Another woman was scheduled to work felt ill and  called in sick. That night the storm hit as a co-worker was closing up. He was pulled from his car and killed.

“It’s been tough,” Sweezer Rowster said. “The hospital was damaged so I don’t know where sick people will go.”

Things, however, are getting better.

National Guard, she said, “has been terrific;” their armory in Rolling Fork is serving as a shelter, and people are bringing supplies to the church. 

“We’ve got a lot of people bringing things,” she said.

Help for Rolling Fork came soon after the tornado hit.

The city of Vicksburg provided the police department’s mobile command post, ambulances and drones. Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace provided a team of sheriff’s deputies and vehicles. And volunteer firefighters with the Warren County Fire Service provided extra manpower for already strapped local first responders in Sharkey County.

Some local businesses provided food for Rolling Fork residents.

Toney’s Grill and Seafood Market owner Charles Toney donated food and his services as a cook.

“He’s down there right now cooking for them, letting them get free meals, feeding people,” Toney’s manager Julie James said Saturday afternoon.

Kim Pittman of Super Junior said Saturday the company donated a variety of food items that were delivered to Rolling Fork.

The Rev. James Bowman, pastor of New Beginning Church in Christ, said he is working with  Sweezer-Rowster, pastor of House of Peace Worship Church, who has a church in Rolling Fork.

He said Sweezer delivered food and other items to Rolling Fork Saturday and will collect items from Bowman’s church Monday.

“I just sent out a text to people to bring all kinds of things they want to,” Bowman said Saturday.

Bowman took donations at the church at 100 Fisher Ferry Road Sunday and was accepting more Monday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., “or until people stop coming.”

Travelers Rest Baptist Church is also accepting donations.

A green sign at the entrance to Crossway Church said “MEMA donations” with an arrow pointing to the church.

“We’re an official collection site for MEMA (Mississippi Emergency Management Agency) and so we’re collecting food, toiletries, water, clothes, items for pets; pretty much anything that people might need,” said the Rev. T.J. Tennison, Crossway’s lead pastor. 

Tennison said the church began collecting items about 1:30 p.m. Saturday and would continue until 10 a.m. Monday, when church members would take all the donations to Rolling Fork.

Tennison said the church was looking to partner with someone to provide aid to Rolling Fork.

“We reached out to them and they got back with me and I just kind of told them, ‘Look we’re willing to do and help in any way we can. We can do a number of different things.”

He said MEMA asked the church to be a collection site.

Culkin Volunteer Fire Department Chief Chuck Tate said the initial team of Warren County volunteer firefighters assisted with command and control to help bring order to the area.

Tate said one team of Fisher Ferry firefighters was involved in search and rescue. Other firefighters, who also work as dispatchers for Vicksburg-Warren 911, assisted with communications until Sharkey County was able to get its E911 system operational.

Sharkey County’s 911 office reportedly took a direct hit from the tornado. Its hospital and police headquarters were also damaged.

Tate said Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs, who is an emergency medical technician, “Did a lot of the heavy medical stuff, and this was early on before the city got there. They had some serious medical issues going on. Jerry was treating patients; we didn’t have any medical personnel up there, initially, and we did not have ambulances for transport.”

After the Vicksburg ambulances arrived, Tate said, Associate Fire Chief Trey Martin and Deputy Chief Jessica Cade provided assistance treating injured people. Both Martin and Cade are paramedics.

Tate said people “were bringing injured people (to the medical area) in the back of pickup trucks with very severe injuries.”

“It was chaos and we slowly got it reined in,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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