‘3 to 5 minutes’: A Rolling Fork resident’s tale of tornado survival
Published 5:01 pm Friday, March 31, 2023
After a long day at work and a few hours with a dead cell phone, Lisa Scott and her husband, Randy Scott, sat down in the living room of their 1920s home in Rolling Fork to watch a little TV and unwind.
They’d spent the evening on their patio, and Lisa plugged her phone in to charge for a little while before bed since it died a little while before. The skies had appeared threatening that evening, but surely, this would be another rainy night for the folks on McLaurin Street.
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The second her phone regained battery power, Lisa got the notice.
“Fannie Woods, a friend of mine, texted me and said, ‘There is a tornado heading to Rolling Fork,'” she said. “I looked at my husband, and we didn’t hear the sirens going off or anything.
“I grabbed the remote and cut the TV on and saw Dave Roberts, from WLBT, and he said, ‘It’s heading to downtown Rolling Fork. If you live in Rolling Fork, you’ve got three to five minutes. Take shelter,'” she added. “And it was that fast.”
Randy left the house immediately to tend to his mother, who lives near Sharkey-Issaquena Regional Medical Center, and Lisa grabbed her little dog to seek shelter. She got approximately halfway down the steps to the basement when all hell broke loose.
“I heard the whistling and roaring of the wind and got down to the bottom (of the stairs) and covered my head,” Lisa said. “Stuff was falling — sediment, water and gas from a busted line.”
THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH
It only took 10 minutes, maybe less, she said, for the roar to subside and the telltale eerie calm that follows a tornado’s path to fall over the neighborhood.
However, Lisa said, living through the tornado is only one piece of the trauma she and her neighbors have endured. That night is when the real panic set in, beginning with the realization that heavy furniture was blocking the basement door, leaving her and her dog trapped in the confined space.
“I called my husband, but all the roads were blocked and he couldn’t get to me,” she said. “I was in (the basement) probably 45 minutes, soaking wet in my pajamas. Water was pouring in. I could open the basement door a few inches and see out the front door.”
She saw flashlights and started screaming for help.
Her neighbors, a couple from South Africa, ran to her aid and carried her out of the house. The trees that once shaded the town and bowed over Deer Creek were now strewn about — with several in the Scotts’ yard wrapped in power lines.
“It was pitch black. You couldn’t see a thing,” she said.
Jeremy Theunissen, who came to her aid, said the journey to safety after the tornado wasn’t an easy one. They had to travel on foot across town through the path the tornado left in order to reach a vehicle Lisa could take to safety.
“In those early moments, everyone had their cellphone lights only,” Theunissen said. “And an hour and a half into (the aftermath) phones started dying and the lights went out one by one.”
Theunissen escorted Lisa through the middle of Deer Creek to reach U.S. 61, the only path out of town for the night. In all, they walked more than two miles in the darkness to reach safety the night of the tornado. She reached her mother-in-law’s truck, which the family had stationed out at the edge of town, and joined them in Greenville for the night.
Every day since has found Scott and her family in what’s left of their home, picking up the pieces.
Standing in the doorway of the home, one has a clear view of the sky at the top of the stairs where the roof once was. Shards of glass litter the living room where Lisa sat mere moments before the tornado broke the home’s windows. Mud covers every surface in the home and water — from burst pipes or the nearby water tower that was flattened in the storm, she’s not sure.
Emotionally, Lisa said she’s holding up as well as can be expected, but less than a week after the storm it’s still so overwhelming.
“I’m fine when I’m here at the house and focused on cleaning up,” she said, petting a stray orange tabby cat that entered the home. “But when I’m in the hotel (in Greenville) or by myself, I’m just squalling crying.”
Lisa said she’d gotten word that her checks and other papers were found as far away as Grenada, Miss. — more than 100 miles from home.
Her insurance company is paying for a hotel room in Greenville for now, but long-term, she and her husband hope to find a house near Rolling Fork to rent for the next year or two.
There’s no sense in rebuilding, she said — they would have to start from scratch. Her husband will retire in the next couple of years, and then they’ll move somewhere else.
“It’s so devastating for all of us,” she said. “So many people, like us, have lost a good bit. Some have lost everything.”